A Russian space capsule with three astronauts aboard safely returned to Earth Thursday in a desolate patch of Kazakhstan, despite a last-minute emergency maneuver that gave their landing the intensity of a "minor traffic accident," according to NASA.
The Soyuz MS-08 carried Russia's Oleg Artemyev and NASA's Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold. The three men gave thumbs-up signs as they were pulled from their cramped module and wrapped in warm blankets.
They had spent the last six months aboard the International Space Station. The Americans completed three space walks during their 197-day stay, performing maintenance on the orbiting laboratory.
Their landing was a jarring one, with rockets slowing the touchdown, which is the aerospace equivalent of slamming on the brakes, NASA said. The astronauts were not hurt.
All three made satellite phone calls to friends and family. Artemyev was given fresh fruit, including a cantaloupe. Their return journey began four hours earlier, when they unlocked from the station and traveled a partial loop around the lab so Feustel could take photographs to commemorate the upcoming 20th anniversary of the module's maiden launch in November 1998.
The space lab has been continually staffed by international astronaut crews since October 2000.
As Feustel snapped images, someone on the space-to-ground audio link exclaimed, "This is great!" A Russian speaker chimed in, "Drew, good job."
After landing, Artemyev reported, "We're feeling just fine. In the mood to celebrate."