After 143 days in space, astronauts set to return
March 14, 2013 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
- NASA: The trip back to Earth should take less than three and a half hours
- One American and two Russians will land just before midnight
- Russian Soyuz space modules have proven very reliable
- It is the standard transportation mode to the ISS after a deadly space shuttle crash
(CNN) -- Nearly five months of cramped living in zero gravity will come to an end Thursday for one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.
Their Soyuz capsule is set to undock at 8:30 p.m. ET, and land less than three and a half hours later in Kazakhstan.
Soyuz modules are vital to the Russian space program.
They are launched into space as capsules atop a rocket, and are capable of landing on land, not requiring a body of water to splash down in.
Kevin Ford on space mission with Russia
Three return from space station
A Soyuz carried the first ever crew to the ISS in November 2000, according to NASA. One is docked there at all times, in case the crew needs to leave in an emergency.
It became the standard mode of transportation to the station after the deadly 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident.
The modern version, the Soyuz TMA, is made of three parts. Two of them jettison then burn upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere, according to NASA. Only the Descent Module will land on Earth, carrying Commander Kevin Ford of NASA, Russian Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Russian Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin.
NASA TV will broadcast the undocking and landing live.
The undocking of the Soyuz will mark the beginning of the 35th ISS mission, which awaits the arrival of two more Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut in two weeks.
The journey up to the station takes longer than the return trip to Earth, NASA said. The Soyuz needs a total of two days to catch up with the ISS in its orbit.
More space and science news on CNN's Light Years blog
Part of complete coverage on
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 0840 GMT (1640 HKT)
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this baffling disappearance.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
As investigators search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, analysts try to figure out why the high-tech plane's transponders were disabled.
Track star Oscar Pistorius is accused of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Follow live updates of South Africa's trial of the century.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 0958 GMT (1758 HKT)
A CNN team joins international observers trying to get into Crimea from Ukraine -- here's what they saw.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1224 GMT (2024 HKT)
Watch how Pope Francis is redefining the papacy and breathing new life into the Catholic Church.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 0400 GMT (1200 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1545 GMT (2345 HKT)
Michael Oren: He says the question is whether a truce can prevent conflict from becoming conflagration.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1015 GMT (1815 HKT)
There's nothing like lying on your back and staring up at a field of glittering stars. Here's where you can go for that:
The Fukushima nuclear disaster changed global attitudes towards nuclear power. Explore our interactive to find out how.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 2029 GMT (0429 HKT)
You -- the person now reading this story -- can help experts solve the mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1051 GMT (1851 HKT)
Scientists around the world are investigating whether living cells can be used to print replacement organs and tissues.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
An adventurer explores Japan's abandoned sex museums -- some of the things he finds are "very, very weird."
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
There are two Web clips featuring Beyonce that have been getting a lot of attention.
Today's five most popular stories