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Kate Rubins
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is all smiles as she is carried from the Soyuz landing site to a medical tent shortly after touchdown. The Soyuz sits in the background of the picture. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)

Just a week after a fresh trio of spacefliers moved into the International Space Station, three other crew members returned to Earth tonight, closing out a 115-day stay in orbit.

NASA biologist-astronaut Kate Rubins, Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Japan’s Takuya Onishi touched down safely in their Russian Soyuz capsule at 8:58 p.m. PT today (9:58 a.m. local time Saturday) in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

A Russian-led recovery team hustled the crew out of the Soyuz amid near-freezing temperatures. All were reported in good health.

During her first trip to space, Rubins made history as the first scientist to sequence DNA in orbit. The practice run blazed a trail for future experiments aimed at tracing the genetic effects of long-term spaceflight.

Rubins also participated in two spacewalks to upgrade the station’s hardware.

The three crew members who went into orbit last week – NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Russia’s Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko – now have the station to themselves. But that’ll change less than three weeks from now.

NASA’s Peggy Whitson, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Russia’s Oleg Novitskiy are due to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard yet another Soyuz spaceship on Nov. 17.

By that time, Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong are expected to wrap up their 30-day mission aboard China’s Tiangong 2 space lab and return to Earth in their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft.

Soyuz descent
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft floats toward its touchdown on the end of a parachute. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)
Soyuz touchdown
The Soyuz craft fires retro rockets to help cushion the landing. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)
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