KOROLYOV, Russia - A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a U.S.-Russian trio of astronauts landed safely in Kazakhstan on Wednesday after staying on the $100 billion International Space Station (ISS).
U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri landed at 0754 GMT, said Russia's Mission Control in Korolyov just outside Moscow.
"There has been a soft landing... The capsule is on earth," an announcer at Russian Mission Control said to huge applause.
Blue thermal blankets were wrapped around the trio as they shivered in the snowy Kazakh steppe, while sweat was wiped from their brows.
The textbook landing will help allay growing concern about relying solely on Russia for rides to the space station, which is shared by 16 nations, just before NASA mothballs its shuttle later this year.
Neither NASA nor Russia have any plans to build a new version of the shuttle. Each Soyuz is a one-off and is used only once.
Spectators watched the Soyuz TMA-01M enter the atmosphere, leaving behind two flight engineers, American Catherine Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli aboard the ISS.
On Monday, Russia delayed this month's launch of a Soyuz craft to carry another U.S.-Russian trio to the ISS due to a glitch in the spacecraft's communication system.
The launch was postponed from March 30 and there still remains the risk it may not go ahead before the April 12 anniversary of man's first flight in space.
Last year difficulties undocking with the space station meant astronauts had to stay for an extra day in orbit.
Delays to the Soyuz are the latest in a string of embarrassing setbacks for Russia's state space agency Roskosmos. It lost control of three GLONASS navigation satellites and one military satellite in two failed launches over the last three months.
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