ARKALYK, Kazakhstan, March 16 (UPI) -- Three astronauts aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-M capsule landed safely in Kazakhstan, returning to Earth from the International Space Station, officials said.
Space station NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri -- part of an ISS team known as Expedition 26 -- touched down in heavy snow in central Kazakhstan early Wednesday, RIA Novosti reported.
The crew is reported to be in good shape after spending 159 days at the ISS, which included two spacewalks to upgrade the station.
The new-generation Soyuz craft -- which brought the crew to the space station Oct. 9 -- had undocked from the station's Poisk mini-research module at 12:27 a.m. EDT.
The undocking marked the official end of Expedition 26, which began Nov. 24, and the start of Expedition 27 under the command of cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, one of three flight engineers from Expedition 26 staying on.
The two other flight engineers are NASA's Catherine "Cady" Coleman, a veteran of two U.S. space shuttle missions, and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy, who trained at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA flight engineer Ron Garan, Soyuz Cmdr. Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Russian flight engineer Andrey Borisenko had been scheduled to lift off on a Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft March 29 to join Expedition 27, but a "technical glitch" in a transistor forced a postponement Monday until early April, the Russian space agency said.
The Expedition 26 astronauts were visited by several spaceships, including unmanned cargo ships from Russia, Japan and Europe. They also had a visit from the space shuttle Discovery, flying its final mission. Discovery delivered a new robot and storage room to the space station, which the Expedition 27 astronauts will use.
"Along with that, we've done some very impressive science and we've gotten the space station ready for life after the space shuttle program, which we certainly will miss," Kelly said Monday.
NASA is retiring the 30-year shuttle program this year.
Kelly is the twin brother of astronaut Mark Kelly, who will command the shuttle Endeavour, scheduled to lift off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center April 19 in its final mission, also to the space station.
Mark Kelly is married to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head outside a Tucson supermarket Jan. 8. Giffords is expected to attend the Endeavour launch.