American, two Russians back on Earth after half-year in space

American, two Russians back on Earth after half-year in space
(From left) US astronaut Michael Hopkins, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky at the Baikonur cosmodrome.

MOSCOW - Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut on Tuesday landed back on Earth in Kazakhstan after a stay of more than half a year aboard the International Space Station.

Russians Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins touched down in their Soyuz capsule outside Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, mission control said.

The textbook landing in difficult weather conditions underlined the strength of space cooperation between the United States and Russia, despite the soaring diplomatic tensions over Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.

The undocking and landing had initially been postponed due to bad weather with heavy snow and high winds at the landing site. But just hours before the undocking, they were allowed to go ahead and mission control said that the landing had proceeded on schedule.

The three spacemen were extracted from the capsule in good shape and wrapped with blankets to protect them from the fierce early-morning cold on the snowy Kazakh steppe.

During their mission Kotov and Ryazansky had, in a spacewalk watched around the world, carried into space the torch that was used to light the Olympic Flame for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Kotov, one of Russia's most experienced cosmonauts, has notched up a total of 526 days in space including previous expeditions in 2007 and 2009-2010.

Ryazansky and Hopkins were making their maiden flights.

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