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.

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).

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.

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.

NASASpaceFlight.com 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.

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