Sunita Williams returns to Earth after 4 months in space

Sunita Williams

Record-setting Indian-American Sunita Williams along with two fellow astronauts safely returned to Earth today from the International Space Station, touching down on the steppes of central Kazakhstan, after spending four months in orbit.

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 at 0726 IST 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 yesterday.

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.

This was the second trip into space for Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who visited the station as an STS-124 mission specialist aboard space shuttle Discovery in 2008.

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