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Space Station Astronauts Make Thanksgiving Day Return to Earth

Doug Wheelock happy to be back on Earth, with Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin. Photo Credit/NASA TV

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia, descended safely into northern Kazakhstan on Thanksgiving night, ending their 5 1/2 month mission to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz capsule settled to the ground under parachute north of Arkalyk at 11: 46 p.m., EST, or just before mid-day Friday at the landing site.

Yurchikhin, Wheelock and Walker were quickly greeted by helicopter born Russian search and rescue personnel and a NASA team

“All three appear to be in excellent shape,” said NASA spokesman Rob Navias, who was standing along side the spacecraft as a member of the Russian led recovery forces.

The trio’s departure from the space station a few hours earlier brought an end to the 25th expedition to the orbital outpost since the start of continuous staffing a decade ago.

As the Soyuz crew departed, command of the station was transferred from Wheelock to fellow NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

“It’s been just an incredible journey, a journey of growth personally and professionally,” said Wheelock earlier this week.

During his stay, Wheelock led a series of August spacewalks in which he and NASA’s Tracy Caldwell Dyson replaced a failed external cooling pump. The pump failure precipitated a significant loss in electrical power.

Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Schripochka, the first members of Expedition 26, boarded the station in early October.

They will be joined by Dmitri Kondratyev, NASA’s Catherine Coleman and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency next month. They are scheduled to launch aboard another Soyuz spacecraft on Dec. 15.

Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin were to be flown to Kustanai in Kazakhstan for a welcoming ceremony. Wheelock and Walker were to board a NASA jet there for the trip back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Yurchikhin will head for Star City, Russia, home of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

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