"We have a landing!" read a huge TV screen at Russia's Mission
Control outside Moscow as the descent capsule hit the frozen ground
at 0924 (0324 GMT) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan in central
"Safe arrival back on Earth," said a NASA TV announcer while
all-terrain rescue and recovery vehicles were shown trundling across
a snowy steppe to the Soyuz TMA-10M capsule. "The crew are reported
to be in good health," NASA said.
Inside the capsule were former ISS commander Oleg Kotov and flight
engineers Sergei Ryazansky and Michael Hopkins from NASA. The trio
launched together into space on September 25.
Shortly afterwards, the space travelers were seated in semi-reclined
chairs in the deep snow and covered with blue blankets to protect
them from strong gusts of wind.
Kotov, the most experienced astronaut in his crew, was shown waving
his left hand with a palm black from the soot of the descent
capsule, which was charred on re-entry.
Rookie Hopkins smiled as a doctor checked his pulse.
In addition to working on 35 science experiments, Kotov and
Ryazansky carried the unlit Olympic torch for the 2014 Winter
Olympic Games outside the station during a spacewalk on November 9.
They left behind a small crew headed by Japan's Koichi Wakata, the
first Japanese national to command the station. Three more crew
members are due to arrive later this month.
Severe weather in Kazakhstan had threatened to delay the Soyuz's
Before their undocking from the ISS, fog and low visibility had
prevented airborne rescue and recovery teams from getting to
Zhezkazgan, a town about 90 miles from the remote landing site on
the windswept flatlands, a Russian space industry source said.
But Russian officials decided to go ahead with the landing after
reviewing weather forecasts and the status of recovery crews.
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"There's a lot of snow on the ground and temperatures are hovering
in the single digits (Fahrenheit)," said NASA mission commentator
Due to severe weather conditions, it was decided not to set up an
inflatable tent for routine medical tests at the landing site.
Instead, the crew underwent just quick tests before being flown by
helicopters straight to the local Kazakh town of Karaganda, where a
formal welcome ceremony would be held.
The U.S.-Russian space partnership so far has not been affected by
tensions over Ukraine. The countries lead the 15-nation space
The $100 billion research complex, which flies about 260 miles above
Earth, has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts
and cosmonauts since November 2000.
(Reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Irene Klotz in Cape
Canaveral, and Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty; editing by Steve Gutterman, Eric Walsh and Ken Wills)
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