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Dec 14, 12:43 PM EST

Space capsule with 3 astronauts returns to Earth

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AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

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MOSCOW (AP) -- Three astronauts returned to Earth on Thursday after nearly six months aboard the International Space Station, landing on the snow-covered steppes outside of a remote town in Kazakhstan.

A Russian Soyuz capsule with NASA's Randy Bresnik, Russia's Sergey Ryazanskiy and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency descended under a red-and-white parachute and landed on schedule at 2:37 p.m. local time (0837 GMT; 3:37 a.m. EST).

The three were pulled out of the capsule within 20 minutes and appeared to be in good condition.

Bresnik, Ryazansky and Nespoli spent 139 days aboard the orbiting space laboratory. The trio who arrived at the station in July contributed to hundreds of scientific experiments and performed several spacewalks.

They left behind Alexander Misurkin, commander of the crew, and two Americans, Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei.

During their stay at the station, the crew had a phone call with Pope Francis who talked with them about Dante's verses and Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince."

Bresnik, a U.S. Marine who flew combat missions during the Iraq war, told the pope what strikes him is that in space there are "no borders, there is no conflict, it's just peaceful."

Kentucky-born Bresnik also celebrated Thanksgiving in space, feasting on pouches of turkey with his colleagues.

The space station will go back to a six-member crew when NASA's Scott Tingle, Russia's Anton Shkaplerov and Japan's Norishige Kanai take off from Kazakhstan on Sunday.

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