Astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth on Wednesday after an unprecedented year in space for NASA, landing in frozen Kazakhstan with a Russian cosmonaut who shared his whole space-station journey. Their Soyuz capsule parachuted onto the central Asian steppes and ended a science-rich mission at the International Space Station that began last March and was deemed a steppingstone to Mars. It was a triumphant homecoming for Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko after 340 days in space. Kelly pumped his fist as he emerged from the capsule, then gave a thumbs-up. He smiled and chatted with his doctors and others as photographers crushed around him in the freezing cold, the AP reports.
"The air feels great out here," a NASA spokesman at the scene quoted Kelly as saying. "I have no idea why you guys are all bundled up." Clearly animated and looking well, he said he didn't feel much different than he did after his five-month station mission five years ago. Kelly and Kornienko had checked out of the space station a few hours earlier. In total, they traveled 144 million miles through space, circled the world 5,440 times and experienced 10,880 orbital sunrises and sunsets during the longest single spaceflight by an American. The two spacemen faced a series of medical tests following touchdown. Before committing to even longer Mars missions, NASA wants to know the limits of the human body for a year, minus gravity.