New Delhi: Record-setting Indian-American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams along with two other cosmonauts returned to Earth on Monday after four months in orbit. The Soyuz capsule, carrying the astronauts, touched down on the steppes of central Kazakhstan at 7.50 am IST.
It was a perfect landing for Williams and two astronauts, Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide, as they touched down in the dark, chilly expanses of central Kazakhstan on board a Russian Soyuz capsule. The three astronauts landed in the town of Arkalyk.
Helicopters rushed with the search-and-recovery crew to assist them, as their capsule parachuted down some 35 kilometres from the planned touchdown site due to a procedural delay. Another three astronauts remain on board the International
Space Station (ISS) and will return next year.
Earlier, the trio bid farewell to their fellow astronauts at the ISS, Flight Engineers Kevin Ford, Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy. The trio undocked from the Rassvet module of the ISS on Sunday.
The return of Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko has wrapped up a 127-day space journey for them, since their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 15, this year, including 125 days spent aboard the ISS. Williams, 47, now has spent a total of 322 days in space during her two long-duration missions. She previously served aboard the ISS as an Expedition 14/15 flight engineer from December 9, 2006, to June 22, 2007.
Williams now also holds the record for spacewalking time for female astronauts. Williams has a total of 50 hours and 40 minutes of spacewalking time over seven spacewalks, including the three she conducted during Expeditions 32 and 33.
(With additional information from PTI)