A Soyuz space capsule carrying Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, US astronaut Scott Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai lands safely in Kazakhstan
Astana (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov made it back to Earth Sunday along with an official match football that could be used later this month in the opening game of the World Cup in Moscow.
Shkaplerov, Scott Tingle of the United States and Norishige Kanai of Japan touched down on the Kazakh steppe on time at 1239 GMT after a 168-day mission aboard the International Space Station.
Footage from the Russian space agency Roscosmos showed the Soyuz descent module carrying the three touch down as recovery helicopters circled over the landing site.
Shkaplerov was out of the capsule first and was pictured munching grapes as the support crew tended to him ahead of his journey back to Moscow.
"We are a bit tired but happy with what we have accomplished and happy to be back on Earth. We are glad the weather is sunny," said Shkaplerov in footage broadcast from the landing site.
Tingle came out next, to whoops and cheers, followed by Kanai.
Both Kanai and Tingle are now bound for Houston via the Kazakh city of Karaganda where they will undergo further medical tests to complete their mission.
Roscosmos posted on Thursday a video of Shkaplerov and fellow cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev practicing in the ISS with an Adidas Telstar 18 football.
Russian news agency TASS reported that the ball is planned to be used during the opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow on June 14, although FIFA has not confirmed that information.
- First-time flyer -
Shkaplerov, Tingle and Kanai spent more than five months in space working on a variety of scientific experiments.
First-time flyer Tingle also completed a spacewalk to replace the hand on the station's robotic arm.
Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency made life on the space station more accessible to Japanese-speakers by tweeting in the language most days.
But one Kanai tweet in January caused confusion after he mistakenly claimed to have grown taller by nine centimetres just weeks after arriving on board the ISS.
He later tweeted a correction and apology, clarifying that he had actually only grown by two centimetres.
The US space agency NASA says that astronauts can grow up to three percent taller in space but return to their normal height when back on Earth.
Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency and Sergei Prokopyev of Roscosmos are set to launch to the ISS from Baikonur on Wednesday.
They will join NASA pair Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Russian Oleg Artemyev aboard the orbital lab.
The space laboratory has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,000 miles per hour) since 1998.
Space research has been one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia and the West that has not been wrecked by the Ukraine crisis.