Photograph by Bill Ingalls, NASA
Read Caption

Astronauts from the International Space Station float to a safe landing in the Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan, after spending six months in space.

Photograph by Bill Ingalls, NASA

Space Station Astronauts Float to Earth in Golden Parachute

The Soyuz spacecraft returned to Earth carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.

We’re used to astronauts returning to Earth in reentry vehicles on a runway or bobbing in the ocean in their capsule. Here's something you probably haven't seen before—the sight of astronauts tethered to a beautiful golden parachute as they landed shortly after sunrise.

View Images
Safe on the Ground

Cosmonauts Elena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev (left and center), and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore (right) relax near the Soyuz spacecraft minutes after landing in a remote area of Kazakhstan near the town of Zhezqazghan on March 12.

Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut returned safely to Earth after spending nearly six months at the International Space Station. Their Soyuz spacecraft landed on March 12 shortly after 5:00 a.m. Moscow time (2:00 GMT).

View Images

Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev (right) and Elena Serova (center) and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore smile after landing safely.

NASA photographer Bill Ingalls captured the moments in a series of photographs highlighted by an especially beautiful image showing the space capsule as it parachuted slowly to Earth above the clouds in early morning light (see above).

NASA said their 167-day mission included hundreds of scientific experiments and several spacewalks. Their research focused on the effects of microgravity on cells, Earth observation, and physical, biological, and molecular science.

View Images
Floating Past the Moon

The Soyuz spacecraft nears the Earth Wednesday morning in Kazakhstan, while the moon was still visible in the sky.

The space scientists also focused on human health impacts from long-term space travel. NASA said two new crew members will soon spend a year on the space station. reported that the landing was complicated by a brief loss of radio communications with the spacecraft as it neared the Earth.

Dennis Dimick is a photo editor and National Geographic's Executive Editor for the Environment. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, and flickr.