Watch CBS News

Russian Soyuz spacecraft brings crew of 3, including NASA astronaut, back to Earth

American among 3 crew members to land at ISS
American among 3 crew members to land at International Space Station 00:37

A Russian Soyuz ferry ship undocked from the International Space Station and flew back to Earth early Saturday, bringing a Russian cosmonaut, a Belarusian guest flier and a NASA astronaut to a picture-perfect landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Soyuz MS-24/70S commander Oleg Novitskiy, flanked on the left by Marina Vasilevskaya of Belarus and on the right by NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara, touched down about 90 miles east of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 3:17 a.m. EDT.

Soyuz commander Oleg Novitskiy (left), Belarusian guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya (center) and NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara (right) bid their space station crewmates farewell before boarding their Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft for the flight back to Earth. NASA TV

Russians recovery crews were on the scene within minutes to assist the returning station fliers out of their cramped Soyuz descent module as they began re-adjusting to the tug of gravity.

For veteran Novitskiy and first-time flier Vasilevskaya, the re-acclimation should be relatively easy. They launched on March 23 aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft along with NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson and docked at the station two days later.

Spending just two weeks aboard the station, they returned to Earth aboard the older Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft that carried station commander Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub and O'Hara to the lab complex last September.

The Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft backs away from the International Space Station. NASA TV

Kononenko and Chub are midway through a yearlong stay in space. They plan to return to Earth next September, along with Dyson, using the new MS-25 spacecraft delivered by Novitskiy. Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya brought O'Hara back to Earth aboard the older ferry ship she launched on last September.

With touchdown, O'Hara had logged 204 days off planet, completing 3,264 orbits covering 86.6 million miles. She also participated in a six-hour 42-minute spacewalk. Novitskiy and Vasilevskya logged 14 days in space, spanning 224 orbits and 5.9 million miles.

All three looked healthy and in good spirits as they rested on recliners near their charred Soyuz descent capsule, waited on by support personnel.

The Soyuz spacecraft lands on the steppe of Kazakhstan to close out a problem-free return to Earth. NASA/Bill Ingalls

"I'm overwhelmed with emotions," said Vasilevskaya, speaking through a translator on NASA TV. "It's something incredible. I wish all people on Earth to treasure and cherish what they have, because this is precious.

"I thank all people of Belarus," she continued. "We actually wanted to stay a little longer, but it's great to be back. It was awesome to be on board the station."

Vasilevskaya, an accomplished ballroom dancer and flight attendant with Belavia Airlines, is the first citizen of Belarus, a staunch ally of Russia, to fly in space since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

While relations between the United States and Russia remain at or near Cold War levels, the two nations continue to cooperate in space, jointly operating the International Space Station.

For her part, Dyson said before launch that she enjoyed training with Vasilevskaya, adding "she's been a real delight to work with."

O'Hara chats with support personnel after being pulled from the Soyuz descent module on the steppe of Kazakhstan. Landing closed out a 204-day flight for O'Hara while her two Soyuz crewmates spent just 14 days in orbit, delivering a fresh ferry ship to the station and bringing O'Hara home aboard the same spacecraft she launched on last September. NASA TV

After brief medical checks and satellite phone calls home to family and friends, the trio was to be flown to Karaganda by helicopter. From there, O'Hara will head home to Houston aboard a NASA jet while Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya fly back to Star City near Moscow.

Left behind in space were ISS commander Kononenko, Chub, Dyson, cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin and NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Epps.

O'Hara's return to Earth completed a complex sequence of flights to replace five of the space station's seven long-duration crew members.

NASA first launched Dominick, Barratt, Epps and Grebenkin to the station March 3 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. They replaced four other fliers who returned to Earth aboard another Crew Dragon.

That cleared the way for launch of Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya and Dyson, delivering a fresh Soyuz and the NASA veteran to the station and then bringing O'Hara back to Earth.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.