Space station crew land safely in Kazakhstan

Tue Dec 1, 2009 6:00am EST
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By Shamil Zhumatov

ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - Three astronauts landed safely in the frozen steppe of northern Kazakhstan on Tuesday after six months orbiting the world on the International Space Station.

The Russian Soyuz space capsule, carrying Belgian Frank de Winne, Canadian Robert Thirsk and Russian Roman Romanenko, landed as planned at 10:17 a.m. Moscow time (0717 GMT/2:17 a.m. EST) about 85 km (50 miles) north of the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan.

De Winne waved as he was helped from the scorched TMA-15 capsule which took more than three hours to descend from the space station orbiting about 400 km (250 miles) above earth.

"The Soyuz commander has just reported that the crew is in good shape," said an official at Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow.

Icy weather meant that support teams traveled over land rather than in helicopters to the desolate landing site where medics gave the crew check ups.

The crew will fly back to Russia's space training center in Star City, outside Moscow, on Tuesday for a reunion with their families and for training on how to deal with gravity after six months on the space station, NASA said.

American Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Suraev will remain on the space station until the arrival of a three man crew -- including Russian Oleg Kotov, NASA's Timothy Creamer and Japan's Soichi Noguchi -- who are expected to leave earth aboard a Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on December 21. (Additional reporting by Conor Sweeney in Korolyov; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

<p>Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk rests in a vehicle after he returned to earth in the Russian Soyuz space capsule in the steppe near the town of Arkalyk, in northern Kazakhstan, December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Remezov</p>