Two astronauts and one cosmonaut were on their way back to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS).
Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, the Russian governmental body responsible for the country’s space science program, began their journey home after 168 days in space.
A Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft carrying the three left the space station for an estimated three-and-a-half hour voyage back to Earth.
They were part of Expedition 54 which began a long-term increase in the crew size on the US segment of ISS from three people to four, enabling NASA to double the time dedicated to research. This expedition was designed to allow for research into biology and biotechnology, technology demonstrations, astrophysics, and materials science.
Investigations were carried out into bacterial antibiotic resistance in microgravity and the Earth’s sunshine was also tracked from space.
Mr Vande Hei, 51, was commissioned in the US Army and served as a combat engineer. He joined NASA in 2006 and initially worked as a communications officer.
He has spent time as an aquanaut, aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory during undersea exploration missions.
Mr Acaba, 50, was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserves and worked as a hydro-geologist.
He was selected as a mission specialist by NASA in May 2004 and has been on two missions previously.
Mr Misurkin is a 1st class pilot-instructor, parachute instructor and military scuba diver and was the station commander at the ISS.
The station is a habitable artificial satellite that was first launched into orbit in 1998 and had its last pressurised module fitted in 2011.
It is expected to be used until 2028 and works as research laboratory.
The ISS is a joint project among five participating space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
The three space travellers have bid farewell to their Expedition 54 crewmates, who will stay at the ISS for another three months to continue their work.
Three additional crew members will arrive at the ISS to join them on 23 March.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies