• Kyodo, JIJI

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Three crew members of the International Space Station, including Norishige Kanai of Japan, returned to Earth on Sunday after completing a 5½-month mission, NASA said.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Kanai, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and American Scott Tingle landed in the Kazakhstan countryside around 6:40 p.m., 3½ hours after leaving from the station.

They had been aboard the orbiting laboratory since mid-December, with Shkaplerov, 46, serving as mission commander from February until he turned over command to American Drew Feustel on Saturday.

“(The landing) was like a roller coaster. All over again I feel my body is heavy. I feel the gravity,” Kanai told reporters after he was taken from the spacecraft.

A 41-year-old former Maritime Self-Defense Force doctor, Kanai drew international attention for claiming on Twitter to have grown 9 cm taller after three weeks at the space station due to the absence of gravity. He later said he had made a measurement mistake and had grown only 2 cm.

During his time aboard the ISS, he conducted various scientific experiments. He was the 12th Japanese astronaut to travel into space and the seventh to serve an extended mission aboard the ISS.

In February he became the fourth Japanese astronaut to walk in space.

In April, he operated the station’s robotic arm to catch an unmanned U.S. resupply ship.

Kanai was selected as an astronaut candidate by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, in 2009. This was his first space trip.

Looking forward, Soichi Noguchi, 53, is scheduled to start an ISS mission around late 2019. Akihiko Hoshide, 49, is expected to reach the space station in May 2020.

Noguchi and Hoshide may use a new spacecraft being developed in the United States. If so, Kanai would be the last Japanese astronaut to travel to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

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