(Adds details from landing)
ALMATY, March 11 An American astronaut and two
Russians who carried a Sochi Olympic torch into open space
landed safely and on time on Tuesday in Kazakhstan, defying bad
weather and ending their 166-day mission aboard the
International Space Station (ISS).
"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 Kazakhstan.
"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 Sept. 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 Nov. 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
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 (150 km) 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
"There's a lot of snow on the ground and temperatures are
hovering in the single-digits (Fahrenheit)," said NASA mission
commentator Dan Huot.
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 station programme.
The $100 billion research complex, which flies about 260
miles (418 km) 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)