British astronaut Tim Peake has made a dramatic return to Earth after six months on the International Space Station (ISS), describing the experience as “the best ride I’ve been on ever”.
His space capsule parachuted down onto a remote patch of the vast Kazakhstan steppe to land on a cushion of fire from its retro rockets at 10.15am UK time.
A gust of wind rolled the tiny craft, measuring just over six feet across, on its side before the arrival of the recovery team, but all three crew members were said to be in good shape.
One by one they were lifted out of the capsule, charred by the heat of re-entry, and placed in comfortable chairs.
Major Peake, travelling with American Nasa astronaut Colonel Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, was the second to leave.
Looking exhausted at first, with his eyes closed, he then smiled broadly and gave a thumbs up to TV crews who had travelled to the landing site.
Asked how he felt, he said: “Great, thanks. It was incredible – the best ride I’ve been on ever.
“I’m just truly elated. The smells of the Earth are so strong. It’s just wonderful to feel the fresh air.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the family now.”
He added that spending 186 days on the space station was a “life changing experience”.
In answer to another question, he said he would “maybe” treat himself to a “pizza and cold beer”.
The whole return journey went precisely according to plan, ending with a “bullseye landing” on the targeted spot almost 300 miles south-west of the major city of Karaganda.
In the last few minutes of the descent the Soyuz was filmed floating through banks of white cloud beneath its huge main parachute canopy, which covers 10,764 square feet.
Just one second before touchdown, six “soft landing” retro rockets beneath the capsule fired to reduce the impact speed to 3mph.
After exiting the craft the crew were taken into the care of medical experts to begin the lengthy process of readjusting to Earth gravity.
Major Peake was the first British astronaut to be sent to the ISS by the European Space Agency (Esa).
The father-of-two took part in more than 250 experiments, performed a space walk and ran the London Marathon on a treadmill.
His success in putting Britain on the space-faring map earned him a unique place in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Becoming the first person to be honoured while in space, he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for “extraordinary service beyond our planet”.