The first crew to blast off to the International Space Station following a launch accident that deepened doubts over Russia’s space programme returned to earth safely on Tuesday.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and Canadian Space Agency record-holder David Saint-Jacques emerged from the spacecraft to applause from support crews, after touching down near the Kazakh city of Dzhezkazgan.
Live footage from the landing site broadcast on NASA television showed the three sitting in chairs smiling as they were attended to by staff ahead of a journey back to Moscow for Kononenko and Houston for McClain and Saint-Jacques.
Arriving at 0247 GMT (8:17am IST) to warm conditions, Kononenko joked that he was “happy to see any kind of weather” after coming back from 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.
They escaped unharmed but the failed launch was the first such incident in Russia’s post-Soviet history and a new setback for the country’s once proud space industry.
A Soyuz spacecraft carrying a Russian cosmonaut and two astronauts from the United States and Canada has returned to Earth.
Expedition commander Oleg Kononenko of Roskosmos, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, and the Canadian Space Agency’s David Saint-Jacques touched down on the steppes of southeastern Kazakhstan on June 25 after spending 204 days in space.
It was Kononenko’s fourth space mission.
Russia’s Aleksei Ovchinin and two U.S. astronauts, Nick Hague and Christina Koch, remain aboard the International Space Station.
The trio is to be joined by Andrew Morgan of NASA, Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency, and Aleksandr Skvortsov of Roskosmos in July.
In October 2018, a Soyuz spacecraft that Hague and Ovchinin were riding in failed two minutes into its flight, activating a rescue system that allowed their capsule to land safely.
That accident was the Russian space program’s first aborted crew launch since 1983, when two Soviet cosmonauts safely jettisoned after a launch-pad explosion.