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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 05:15 GMT
Space station crew back on Earth
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (left) and Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque shortly after landing in Kazakstan, 28 October 2003
Russian Yuri Malenchenko (left) got married while in space
The outgoing crew of the International Space Station has arrived safely back on Earth after six months in orbit.

The Expedition 7 team, made up of US astronaut Ed Lu and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, touched down in Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz capsule.

They came back with Spaniard Pedro Duque, who has spent a week conducting scientific tests on the platform.

Their craft landed on target close to the town of Arkalyk, about 330 km from the Kazakh capital Astana.

"They have landed. Everything is fine, soft landing engines have worked. Everything went according to plan," an official from Russia's mission control told Reuters news agency.

It was a dream landing. It's almost as if they hit an x-mark on the ground
Robert Navias
Doctors from the United States and Spain were present at the landing site, while 12 helicopters and three aeroplanes were available to patrol the skies.

The capsule touched down at 0540 Moscow time (0240 GMT).

US space agency (Nasa) spokesman Robert Navias told reporters: "It was a dream landing. It's almost as if they hit an x-mark on the ground."

Change of command

Space veterans Lu and Malenchenko, who had been on board the ISS since 28 April, had spent the past few days handing the baton to their replacements, British-born US astronaut Michael Foale and Russian Cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri.

Malenchenko, a pilot and engineer, and Lu, a physicist and expert in solar flares, were the first spacemen to blast off into orbit after the shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere on 1 February this year.

Only Russian spacecraft service the ISS since the Columbia disaster
Nasa now depends on Russia to keep its astronauts flying, after the Columbia disaster halted the US shuttle programme.

Duque, who went up with Foale and Kaleri, was the first Spaniard to visit the ISS. He spent the brief handover period conducting experiments for the European Space Agency's Cervantes Mission.

The extensive testing programme focused on the fields of life and physical sciences, Earth observation and technology.

Duque also performed a number of educational and promotional activities with the aim of bringing the space programme to a wider public, and young people in particular.

Most of the experiments were sponsored by the Spanish Government.

Safety fears

In the past week, the ISS project has been dogged by concerns about the safety of the platform's air cleaning and other systems.

Some ground engineers had reportedly claimed that a growing array of hardware problems was preventing the proper assessment of the quality of air, water and radiation levels aboard the platform.

Expedition 8, AP
Foale (r) and Kaleri take the next tour
Some medical officials have said equipment issues have been growing for more than a year, with ISS astronauts complaining of headaches, dizziness and "an inability to think clearly".

However, Nasa has said that the safety of the mission has never been in doubt. Spokesman Robert Mirelson said there was a full pre-flight discussion of the issues by engineers who decided the launch of Expedition 8 could proceed normally.

Yuri Malenchenko, who was the first person ever to get married in orbit, is returning to his new bride.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"This time everything went to plan"

Space crew flew despite 'fears'
23 Oct 03 |  Science/Nature
Soyuz docks with space station
20 Oct 03 |  Science/Nature
Astronaut profile: Michael Foale
17 Oct 03 |  Science/Nature

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