NASA astronauts returned to Earth on Tuesday after spending 204-days aboard the International Space Station. Astronauts Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 8-47 a.m. (0247GMT), less than a minute ahead of the scheduled time in Soyuz capsule. McClain and Saint-Jacques completed their first flights into space. Saint-Jacques’ mission completed longest single spaceflight by a Canadian astronaut.
Americans Nick Hague and Christina Koch and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin remain aboard the space station.
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The crew will return by helicopter to the recovery staging area in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where McClain and Saint-Jacques will board a NASA plane for their return to Houston, and Kononenko will return to his home in Star City, Russia.
Kononenko who was the first one to have been extracted from the capsule looked visibly tired and pale. McClain and Saint-Jacques were more energetic and gave a thumbs-up to the recovery team who greeted the three with applause.
The astronauts were put on camping chairs in the sun just by the capsule for a respite and initial medical checks.
When asked by a reporter on site if he liked the weather Kononenko said he was “happy to see any kind of weather” after spending over 200 days in space.
The trio's launch on December 3 was the first after a Soyuz rocket carrying Russia's Aleksey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague failed in October just minutes after blast-off, forcing the pair to make an emergency landing.
NASA said earlier this month that it will be opening the ISS up to space tourists for the first time next year with 30-day visits expedited by SpaceX and Boeing expected to cost around $58 million per person.
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Russia has flown seven tourists to the ISS but is set to increase that number beginning in 2021, according to Roscosmos, which struck a deal with American company Space Adventures earlier this year.