Capsule carrying astronauts from International Space Station returns to Earth

Novitskiy, 45, is returning to Earth with 39-year-old Pesquet, but Peggy Whitson, who accompanied them into space, will remain on the ISS until September after NASA extended her stay.

Members of the International Space Station crew, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, left, and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, rest after landing today.

"It's been a fantastic adventure and incredible ride", Pesquet tweeted a few hours before the undocking.

Pesquet (of the European Space Agency or ESA) and Novitskiy (of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos) have been on the ISS since November 2016. He told Macron that even just holding the telephone was hard.

Pesquet himself underlined the "fragility" of Earth in an interview to AFP from the ISS.

One seat aboard the capsule was empty as US astronaut Peggy Whitson, who flew to the station with Novitskiy and Pesquet in November, will remain in orbit until September.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, the head of CNES, France's space agency, told AFP Pesquet "worked in a remarkable fashion".

"There are things that one understands intellectually, but which one doesn't really get", he said via video link, gently floating around in the zero gravity of space. The astronauts took many photographs of the Earth and shared them in social networks.

"Peggy is a legend", Pesquet said.

Whitson, who is serving on the station for a third time, broke the US record in April for cumulative time in space.

Whitson arrived at the ISS together with Novitsky and Pesquet. Whitson did not appear to take the news badly, and in a statement from April, she said she loved being up there, and that living and working aboard the ISS is where she feels she makes the greatest contribution. "Having three more months to squeeze is just what I would wish for".

  • Carolyn Briggs