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Space Station astronauts return to Earth

dpa logodpa 2/06/2017 Peter Spinella

Two astronauts are headed back to earth after their Soyuz craft departed from the International Space Station.

A Russian spacecraft has undocked from the International Space Station to embark on a flight to return French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy to Earth.

The Soyuz craft is scheduled to land in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan around 1400 GMT, according to a statement by the European Space Agency (ESA).

"The crew will reduce their orbital cruising speed of 28,800 kilometres per hour to zero over the course of three hours," the statement said.

Upon arrival Pesquet will fly to the ESA's astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany, and Novitskiy to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow, Russia, the ESA said.

The duo's six-month mission aboard the orbiting station was Pesquet's first. Novitskiy, a veteran spacefarer, has spent a total of more than 300 days in space.

"It's been a fantastic adventure and amazing ride," Pesquet said in a post on Twitter, featuring a collage of landscapes in the colours of the French flag.

"The space station is such a unique and remote and almost magical place," Pesquet said. "I will miss it."

The Soyuz craft will separate into three parts during the journey, with the orbital and propulsion modules discarded to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

"The descent module with Thomas and Oleg will encounter temperatures of up to 1,600 degrees Celsius as friction from the atmosphere heats the protective shield," the ESA said.

Three spacefarers will remain on the station: Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and US astronaut Jack Fischer, who arrived in April, and veteran US commander Peggy Whitson.

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