Happy Landings: 3 Space Station Crew Members Back on Earth

After spending six months in the space, three crew members of the International Space Station returned to the Earth on Wednesday morning.

After spending 534 days in the space across four space stations American astronaut Jeff Williams became the US record-holder for most time spent in orbit. Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka logged 72.8 million miles in space, circling the globe 2752 times before landing on the south central steppes of Kazakhstan just 23 minutes after sunrise Wednesday, 7:13 a.m. local time (1:13 a.m. GMT).

The mission comes the same day a United States space probe was cleared for launch on Thursday to collect and return samples from an asteroid in hopes of learning more about the origins of life on Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the solar system, NASA said.

A U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts strapped themselves inside a Russian Soyuz capsule and flew away from the International Space Station, landing just after sunrise in Kazakhstan.

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Above: Jeff Williams monitors bowling ball-sized internal satellites known as SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) during a maintenance run in the International Space Station's Japanese Kibo Laboratory Module on June 30, 2016.

In a statement, NASA called Williams "instrumental in preparing the station for future arrival of USA commercial crew spacecraft". Previously NASA astronaut Scott Kelly holds the record with 520 days in space.

Williams first blasted to space aboard the shuttle Atlantis in 2000.

While the view from space will certainly be missed, all three of the returning crew members report that they are ready to rejoin their families on the ground. He and two Russian cosmonauts spent 172 days on the International Space Station.

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