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Three ISS crew return to Earth



Russia: Russian cosmonaut and two astronauts from the International Space Station touched down early Monday on the steppes of Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz capsule after spending over four months aboard the ISS.

Russia's Yury Malenchenko, Sunita Williams of the US and Akihiko Hoshide of Japan touched down as scheduled just before 0200 GMT, the Russian Space Flight Control Centre announced as the message "Landing Accomplished" was flashed on a giant screen.

The three landed an hour before sunrise a few kilometres (miles) from the target northeast of Arkalyk in central Kazakhstan, a central Asian ex-Soviet republic, an official said on NASA TV which showed the landing.

After stepping out of the capsule one by one, the three were placed side by side on a special seat and covered with a blue blanket to protect them from the cold, with the outside temperature at around -10 Celsius.

They looked in good shape, with the American and the Japanese astronauts smiling for the cameras and the officials who greeted them.

The Russian cosmonaut, more serious, said the return to Earth had gone "admirably" well in reply to a journalist who asked him to say a few words.

The team were then taken to a marquee set up nearby to undergo medical tests.
A sign that read "Landing place of space vessel Soyuz TMA-05" was hammered into the ground by local officials.

Three planes, 12 helicopters and six emergency vehicles were mobilised for the landing mission, Ria Novosti news agency reported.

All operations had gone well, from the undocking from the ISS to the landing, the NASA official said.

The three ISS crew members will be replaced by a new team that blasts off December 19 in a Soyuz vessel from Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan. It will be made up of Russian Roman Romanenko, American Thomas Marshburn and Canadian Chris Hadfield.

They will join the remaining ISS crew, Russians Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin, and Kevin Ford of the United States, who arrived on October 25.

Since 2009 there have been permanent teams of six astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the space station, whose capacity was previously limited to only three persons.

The Russian Soyuz rocket has been used to ferry crews to and from the ISS since the US space shuttle was retired last year.

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