Down to Earth: Returning from the International Space Station

From above the clouds back to solid ground, a homecoming for three space travelers

After 168 days aboard the International Space Station, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba head back home to Earth. Traveling in the Soyuz MS-06 capsule, it takes just three hours after leaving the ISS to return to the Earth's surface.

Above the Clouds ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Above the Clouds Since NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011, American astronauts have been hitching a ride with Russian cosmonauts to get to the International Space Station and back again. Getting Closer ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Getting Closer The Soyuz capsule was first created in the 1960s by the Soviet Union as part of the space race to the moon. Ready for the Plunge ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Ready for the Plunge The ISS, a joint venture among 15 different countries, is divided into two zones: the American side and the Russian side. Landed! ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Landed! A snug journey, the capsule is designed to hold just three crew members. On the trip through the Earth's atmosphere, the Soyuz withstands temperatures of more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping those inside safe. Crews Get to Work ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Crews Get to Work In a remote area outside of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, where the capsule lands, a search and rescue team assists the crew with their arrival. That's a Big Parachute ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images That's a Big Parachute Technically a series of four parachutes, they start deploying 15 minutes before landing. The main parachute measures 10,764 square feet. Sea Legs ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Sea Legs After five months in space, the Earth's gravitational force and the natural air take some time to get used to. Here, ground personnel work with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin to exit the craft. Phoning Home ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Phoning Home NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei waves as he is carried out of the capsule. Grounded ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images Grounded NASA astronaut Joe Acaba warms up and rests up after landing. A Successful Mission ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images A Successful Mission Acaba, Vande Hei, and Misurkin get reorineted to the Earth's conditions, surrounded by the ground crew. At 15 degrees Fahrenheit, Kazakhstan leaves more for the body to get used to than just gravity!