Kazakhstan welcomed the world’s most experienced space flier and two rookie crewmates on Saturday, including Denmark’s first-ever astronaut, who returned from the International Space Station with a bull’s-eye parachute landing.
The descent capsule departed the space station at 2139 GMT and landed at 0051 GMT in the steppe southeast of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan.
Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, 57, the former station commander, returned from his fifth spaceflight with a record 879 days in orbit. He broke the record of six-time flier Sergei Krikalev, who has a career total 803 days in space.
Returning with Padalka were Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency, jokingly dubbed “Denmark’s Gagarin” after Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Aidyn Aimbetov, the third Kazakh cosmonaut, both of whom spent less than 10 days in orbit.
Several hours later the trio were brought by helicopter to the airport of Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, where Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev gave them a red-carpet reception.
“You’ve spent so much time in space, but you look great,” Nazarbayev told Padalka.
“I congratulate you on your cosmonaut and all of us on the successful completion of our work,” Padalka said.
“There are 200 states in the world, but not all of them get the luck of sending their citizens into space,” Nazarbayev said. “We are one of those rare cases – and we have launched three cosmonauts already, not one.”
Mogensen said the crew had had “a fantastic mission” at the ISS, whose nine members represented five different nationalities at the time.
“This is a superb example of what can be achieved together when we work together across borders and boundaries,” he said.
Nazarbayev later gave the crew apples – a symbol of Kazakhstan – and a plane took them to Russia’s Star City.