Astronauts, Olympic torch, safely back on Earth after 3-hour trip home

Olympic torch returns after being taken on a historic spacewalk outside space station

After spending 166 days in space, three astronauts returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The three astronauts, Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA's Karen Nyberg and Italy's Luca Parmitano, also brought back a special piece of cargo. They returned the Olympic torch, which twill be used to light the Olympic flame during the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

After astronauts land
NASA's Karen Nyberg, left, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, center, and the European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano relax outside the Soyuz capsule that brought them back to Earth just minutes after landing in Kazakhstan. (Photo: NASA)

The torch arrived on the space station Thursday onboard the Soyuz spacecraft with three new crewmembers. On Saturday, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy took the torch outside the orbiting station on a historic spacewalk.

Olympic torch on spacewalk
Russian astronaut Oleg Kotov holds an Olympic torch as he takes it on a spacewalk Saturday as Russian astronaut Sergei Ryazansky gives instructions outside the International Space Station. The cosmonauts took the torch into open space for the first time in historyas part of the torch relay of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. (Photo: NASA via Reuters)

The three astronauts heading home took their positions in the Soyuz spacecraft, along with the Olympic torch, shortly before it undocked from the space station at 6:26 p.m. Sunday.

Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano landed safely in Kazakhstan, just southeast of Dzhezkazgan, at 9:49 p.m. Sunday. The trip home took less than three and a half hours.

A Russian recovery team, along with NASA personnel, reached the landing site by helicopter shortly after the spacecraft landed to assist the crew and conduct health assessments.

During their time in space, the three astronauts completed 70.3 million miles spanning more than 2,600 orbits of the Earth since their launch last May, according to NASA.

NASA's Nyberg has logged 180 days in space on two missions, 13 days of which were during a 2008 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

This article, Astronauts, Olympic torch, safely back on Earth after 3-hour trip home, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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