A Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft carrying French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy landed on the Kazakh steppe today, ending their marathon 196-day mission to the International Space Station. “All is well. The landing has taken place. Now the cosmonauts will be evacuated from the capsule,” a spokesman for Russian mission control told AFP.
The pair had undocked as the International Space Station (ISS) orbited above the Chinese-Mongolian border, marking the beginning of a 400-kilometre descent back to Earth lasting just over three hours.
For Pesquet, a first-time astronaut, the 196-day trip fell just shy of breaking the record for a space mission by a European Space Agency astronaut. Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy spent 199 days on her mission in 2015.
“It’s been a fantastic adventure and amazing ride,” 39- year-old Pesquet tweeted a few hours before the undocking.
Former Russian Air Force pilot Oleg Novitskiy, 45, was completing his second mission to the ISS.
Nasa TV footage showed the pair being attended to by Russian and European crews on the ground after being quickly lifted out of the craft. The $100 billion ISS space laboratory has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour since 1998.