• Kyodo, Reuters


A Japanese astronaut and two other members of the International Space Station returned to Earth on Sunday after completing a nearly four-month mission, the Japanese and U.S. space agencies said.

Russian mission commander Anatoly Ivanishin and flight engineers Takuya Onishi, from Japan, and Kate Rubins, from the United States, landed in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz spacecraft about 10 a.m. local time.

“I’ve enjoyed (my stay in space). Now the air here tastes very good,” Onishi told reporters with a smile after being helped out of the spacecraft.

The three astronauts’ mission began in July. According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Onishi took part in experiments including one to raise mice in microgravity and one to capture the Cygnus automated cargo ship with the station’s robotic arm. The Cygnus was launched earlier this month by NASA.

Their missions also included the first use of a DNA sequencer in space and the installation of a docking port for future commercial space taxis.

“I’m kind of reluctant to close the hatch,” Ivanishin said during a change-of-command ceremony Friday before leaving the ISS. “The time is very special here. … I didn’t have time to pay attention to what was happening on our planet, and maybe it’s for the better. On the space station, you live in a very friendly, very good environment.”

Ivanishin turned over command of the station, a $100 billion orbiting research lab, to newly arrived astronaut Shane Kimbrough of the U.S.

Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko docked with the station on Oct. 21.

“We’re sorry we’re only here a week with you,” Kimbrough told the departing crew after taking command Friday. “You guys have trained us well though.”

Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko will be on their own until next month, when another three crew members are scheduled to reach the station orbiting about 418 km (250 miles) above Earth.

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