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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 04:27 GMT 05:27 UK
Space station crew back on Earth
US astronaut Mike Fincke (R) and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka (C) and Yuri Shargin (L)
The spacemen made a "soft landing" in Kazakhstan
Russian and US spacemen have landed back in Kazakhstan, after returning from the International Space Station.

Russian cosmonauts Yuri Shargin and Gennady Padalka and US astronaut Michael Fincke touched down at 0035GMT on Sunday.

"All is fine, it was apparently a soft landing," said a spokesman.

A new two-man crew - Salizhan Sharipov and Leroy Chiao - is now on the ISS, with two spacewalks planned during their tour of duty.

The Soyuz TMA-4 landed as planned about 90km (55 miles) north of the town of Arkalyk.

But finding it took some time because of complete pre-dawn darkness on the Kazakh steppe.

Phone home

The space crew were given sleeping bags and hot drinks, before being examined in a bright orange inflatable hospital erected nearby.

"The cosmonauts all feel great; the landing was fine. They all liked it," said Sergei Steshenko, a member of the search and recovery team.

"We found them without problem with a radio beacon and we have given them tea, and they are now undergoing medical checks."

The men were due to be flown to Moscow's Star City, where Russia's space programme is based, but Fincke stole a few minutes to speak to his family by satellite phone.

Since February 2003, when the US space shuttle Columbia burned up during re-entry, the ISS has been serviced exclusively by Russian Soyuz craft.

All seven astronauts on board Columbia were killed in the disaster.

The latest estimate of when the US orbiters might return to flight is May next year at the earliest.

Construction on the multi-billion-dollar platform is on hold until the shuttles are brought back into service and can carry up new components for the station.

Six-month tour

The new ISS crew - known as Expedition 10 - will study plant growth and carry out experiments on possible vaccines against Aids. They also plan to make two spacewalks.

Their arrival marked the fourth trip to the ISS by a Soyuz spacecraft since the US suspended shuttle flights after the Columbia disaster.

The Expedition 9 crew of Padalka and Fincke completed a six-month tour of duty, logging 190 days on the ISS.

Shargin spent only eight days on the space station, after travelling there with the replacement crew.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the station crew on their return to Earth



SEE ALSO:
Shuttle loses March-April window
04 Oct 04  |  Science/Nature
Big shuttle repairs not possible
27 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature
Spacewalk complete despite hitch
03 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature


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