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Astronaut and cosmonauts return to Earth after mission launched during pandemic

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(From left) Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner ahead of their mission
(From left) Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner ahead of their mission   -   Copyright  AP/Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service
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An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) after a six-month mission in space, which began in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trio of space travellers returned safely to Earth on Thursday, landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

American Chris Cassidy and Russians Anatoli Ivanichine and Ivan Vagner had left the planet without much fanfare in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak on April 9.

They had been confined to their training centre near Moscow and bid farewell without an audience, as their relatives had not been allowed to attend their last press briefing.

They were joined on 31 May by Americans Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who made the first manned flight by the private American group SpaceX. This mission marked the return of American transports to the ISS after nine years of interruption in favour of Russian Soyuz rockets.

Before returning from his third mission in space, 50-year-old American Chris Cassidy tweeted a photo of blood samples to be taken by astronauts during their stay on the ISS.

"What's the price of returning to Earth? .... 8 tubes of blood! The 7 shown in this photo were taken in the morning to be placed in our freezer, and the 8th will be taken just before undocking," he wrote.

"Mommy I'm coming home," tweeted Ivan Vagner, 35, whose first mission was on Wednesday. Anatoli Ivanichine was completing her third mission in space.

On 13 October, a Soyuz MS-17 with the American Kathleen Rubins on board, and the Russians Sergei Ryjikov and Sergei Kud-Svertchkov had joined the trio to take over.