Space crew lands safely on Kazakh steppe
Russian cosmonaut and station commander Dmitry Kondratyev and flight engineers Catherine “Cady” Coleman, an American, and Italian Paolo Nespoli touched down aboard the Soyuz TMA-20 craft at 0827 local time (0227 GMT).
“They have landed. Everything was fine,” Irina Manshilina, spokeswoman for Russian Misson Control, said by telephone from outside Moscow.
Nasa TV described a “textbook entry” and upright landing for the capsule, 147km southeast of the central Kazakh city of Zhezkazgan.
The soft landing may help to allay growing concern about relying solely on Russia for flights to the US$100 billion (RM304.34 billion) space station, which is shared by 16 nations, just before Nasa mothballs its shuttle programme later this year.
Nasa TV commentators described the crew as appearing in exceptionally good shape as they emerged from the capsule.
Kondratyev drank water and appeared relaxed as rescue crews wiped sweat from his brow. Coleman smiled as she descended from the space capsule and was carried to a reclining chair. Nespoli was last to emerge.
As a parting gift to Nasa, Kondratyev flew the spacecraft out to about 200m from the International Space Station while Nespoli snapped pictures and recorded video of the US space shuttle Endeavour parked at the orbital outpost.
The images shot before the capsule’s descent to Earth will be the first of a shuttle and the station together from a remote vantage point, with a planetary view of Earth in the background.
Three new station crew members — cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA astronaut Michael Fossum and Japan’s Satoshi Furukawa — are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 7.
Endeavour and its crew — commander Mark Kelly, pilot Greg Johnson, spacewalkers Andrew Feustel, Michael Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori — are due back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 1. — Reuters