Space station astronauts land safely

Three astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) have returned to Earth, after the loss of a spacecraft delayed an earlier return attempt.

The trio handed control of the ISS over to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, after nearly 200 days in space.

Among them is Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, who has set the record for the most time in space on a single mission by a female astronaut.

Their Soyuz spacecraft landed safely on Thursday in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

“It was a textbook homecoming for the Expedition 43 crew,” said a NASA presenter after the landing.

A photo provided by Nasa on 11 June 2015 of the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft as it lands on 11 June 2015

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the astronauts landed safely in Kazakhstan

International Space Station crew member Samantha Cristoforetti on 11 June 2015

Ms Cristoforetti set the record for the most time spent in space for a female astronaut on a single mission

The commander of the expedition, Terry Virts, and his crewmates Anton Shkaplerov and Ms Cristoforetti have spent almost seven months on board the ISS carrying out scientific research and technology demonstrations.

All three were carried out of the spacecraft and checked over by medical workers. “Everything worked by the second, step by step, the guys were great,” said Mr Shkaplerov.

According to a Nasa press release, the team has travelled more than 84 million miles since their launch into space on 24 November.

They were originally due to leave a month ago, but their departure was delayed after the failure of a supply spaceship. The out-of-control unmanned Progress M-27M burnt up as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

The delay meant that on 6 June Ms Cristoforetti set a new world record for the most time spent in space by a woman on a single mission after clocking up more than 194 days.

The 38-year-old has gained an active following on Twitter during her time on the ISS by posting videos showing how to do simple everyday tasks in space such as making a meal.

She also famously introduced an espresso machine, which was specially adapted to work in space.

Commander Terry Virts of NASA (L) hands command of the International Space Station to cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (R) of the Russian Federal Space Agency, in this NASA handout image on 10 June 2015.

The members of Expedition 43 (in red) handed over to Expedition 44

Image released April 14, 2015 by ESA/NASA shows the giant solar arrays on the International Space Station photographed on February 12, 2015 by Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Three more astronauts are due to arrive at the International Space Station in July

Expedition 44 is led by Mr Padalka, alongside fellow crew members US astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

Mr Kelly and Mr Kornienko are two-and-a-half months into a year-long tour of duty on the ISS, the longest continuous stay anyone will have had on board the 400km-high (250 mile) orbiting platform.

Three more astronauts are due to join them in July.

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