Three International Space Station crew members landed in the snowy steppe to the northeast of the Kazakh city of Zhezkazgan on Friday, a NASA Television broadcast showed.
A capsule carrying NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan’s Kimiya Yui was found by a search and rescue group whose four helicopters braved very strong winds and low clouds to reach the touchdown site.
Lindgren, Kononenko and Yui have been in orbit for nearly five months. Their replacements are slated to blast off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday.
Left aboard the $100 billion station are U.S. astronaut and commander Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov.
Kelly and Kornienko are in the final months of a year-long mission, the longest stint in space since crews began living on the station in 2000. They are due to land on March 1.
Six Russian cosmonauts previously spent more than 300 days in space aboard the now-defunct Soviet station Mir. The longest flight lasted nearly 438 days.
Kelly and Kornienko’s year-long mission is a trial run as the 15-nation station partnership begins planning for longer missions to the moon, Mars and other destinations beyond the space station.