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Three-person crew home safely from ISS

New crew takes over station

A screen in Russias mission control center near Moscow this morning announced the successful landing of a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three International Space Station crew members.
A screen in Russias mission control center near Moscow this morning announced the successful landing of a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three International Space Station crew members. (NASA-TV)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA astronaut Terry Virts and two crew mates returned home safely from the International Space Station Thursday morning, landing in a Russian Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan.

Local 6 News partner Florida Today says Virts, a day after handing command of the space station to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, flew back to Earth with Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.

Their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft departed the ISS at at 6:20 a.m. Eastern time, and landed under parachutes with a thud southeast of Dzhezkazgan just over three hours later, at 9:44 a.m.

The crew's return had been delayed about a month after the failure of a Russian cargo resupply mission, flown by a robotic Progress freighter that shares some common systems with the Soyuz.

In total they spent 199 days on the station, completing 3,184 orbits and traveling 84.2 million miles.

Remaining on the ISS with Padalka were NASA's Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who are are several months into a planned yearlong mission. Padalka will return sooner.

Today's Soyuz departure marked the end of ISS Expedition 43 and the start of Expedition 44.

A replacement crew, including NASA astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren, is expected to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan between July 23 and July 25. That mission also was delayed by the Progress failure.

Since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft offers astronauts' only ride up and down from the station.

NASA has awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to develop new capsules that would launch from the Space Coast.

The space agency hoped to begin those flights by late 2017, but Congress so far is proposing considerably less funding for the Commercial Crew Program next year than the $1.2 billion NASA requested, potentially delaying launches to 2019.