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Delayed astronauts return to Earth

A three-person crew from the International Space Station has landed safely in Kazakhstan after a longer than expected orbital stint.

Nasa's Terry Virts, Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency and Russia's Anton Shkaplerov returned to Earth after 199 days on the station, nearly a month more than planned.

Their Soyuz capsule landed on schedule about 90 miles south-east of Dzhezkazgan.

The mission's extension was caused by the failed launch of a Russian cargo ship in April.

The Soyuz rocket that failed in April is used to launch spacecraft carrying crews, so Russian space officials delayed the crew's return and further launches pending an investigation.

A Soyuz rocket successfully launched a satellite last week, and a new crew is set to head to the station in July.

After descending slowly under a striped red and white parachute, the craft touched down softly under the sun-drenched steppe.

Russian helicopters around the landing area delivered search and rescue crews to help the astronauts get out of the capsule and check their condition.

The astronauts sat in reclining chairs, adapting to Earth conditions after months in zero gravity and talked with doctors and space officials. They were then carried into an inflatable tent for initial medical checks.

"I'm doing great. I feel really good," Mr Virts said.

After the check-up, the crew will be flown by helicopters to the city of Karaganda, where they will board planes home.

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