Three International Space Station crew members have returned to Earth after a nearly six-month-long mission, landing on the snowy, cold steppes of Kazakhstan.
Two U.S. astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut landed in a Soyuz capsule in below-freezing conditions early on February 28 that NASA said were not severe enough to prevent a trouble-free recovery of the team by ground crew.
Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei, and Russian Aleksandr Misurkin emerged from the capsule one by one, smiling, waving, and pumping their fists in the air as they were carried to outdoor chairs.
Medical staff wrapped them in thick blankets, while taking their pulse and making sure they were OK.
"We're already missing you," space station commander Anton Shkaplerov said as the men left the station.
In handing over the skipper's job to Shkaplerov, Misurkin joked that at least he and his two crewmates didn't break anything and hopefully accomplished some good science. They'd lived on the space station since September.
Acaba, a former schoolteacher, is the first astronaut of Puerto Rican heritage.
During a series of spacewalks spanning months, Acaba and Vande Hei helped replace the aging mechanical hands of the station's big robot arm. And last fall, they had a chance to chat with Pope Francis, discussing the beauty and fragility of their home planet.
A replacement crew is scheduled to lift off from the Russian-leased Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan on March 21 and bring the space station back up to a full crew of six.