Expedition 35 crew members
The Expedition 35 crew members are assisted by recovery teams and medical personnel shortly after landing in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft. Credit: NASA TVNASA TV

Three members of the Expedition 35 crew safely returned to Earth after spending five months aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a research laboratory orbiting about 400 kilometres (250 miles) above Earth.

The three crew members - Commander Kevin Chris Hadfield and Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko - landed their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft in southern Kazakhstan at 10:31 pm EDT on Monday ( 8 am IST on Tuesday). After landing on the ground, Hadfield said, "That was quite a ride home," according to Space.com.

Earlier on Sunday, Hadfield ceremonially handed over the command of the space station to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. Hadfield and the other two flight engineers, who were aboard the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft in December, spent 144 days living and working at the space station.

During their stay, the trio orbited the Earth 2,300 times and logged 98 million kilometres. They witnessed the arrival and departure of unmanned cargo ships including California based SpaceX's Dragon capsule in March, the Space.com report said. Two days before their return Cassidy and Marshburn performed an emergency spacewalk to plug the ammonia coolant leak on the outside of the orbiting science lab. 

The return of the trio marks the end of Expedition 35 and the start of Expedition 36. Expedition 36 will be will be a three-member crew - Vinogradov and Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Alexander Misurkin - until three more crew members join them in the last week of May.

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Luca Parmitano will be launched on 28 May. After spending five months aboard the ISS, the trio (Vinogradov, Cassidy and Misurkin) will return to Earth in September. Yurchikhin will take over as commander from Vinogradov.

The International Space Station is a joint project among five different space agencies - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The $100 billion laboratory was built in 1998. The space station has been continuously occupied by astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.