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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 03:59 GMT 04:59 UK
Brazilian back on Earth from ISS
Col Pontes (centre) on his return to Kazakhstan
Col Pontes said he was "very happy" to be back
Lt Col Marcos Pontes, the first Brazilian to go into space, has returned to Earth after nine days on the International Space Station.

A space capsule carrying Col Pontes, American Bill McArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan early on Sunday.

"Soyuz has made a soft landing," said a mission control official in Moscow.

All three crew were reported well after their three-and-a-half-hour journey back to Earth.

Medical checks

"I am very happy," Col Pontes, who had taken a Brazilian football team shirt with him on his mission, said. "I want to say: thank you for everything."

The departing trio were replaced by Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and US astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who will crew the orbiting station for the next six months.

Their capsule touched down at 0347 Moscow time (2347 GMT on Saturday) on the steppes near Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan, where the temperature was -11C.

McArthur and Tokarev had spent 189 days in orbit.

Russian space authorities took the three returning astronauts to a field hospital for a medical check-up before they were flown to Moscow.

The 43-year-old Brazilian Air Force pilot's mission, which cost Brazil about $10m (6m), came less than three years after Brazil's space programme met with disaster when a rocket exploded on the launch pad.

The explosion of the first Brazilian rocket, built to take satellites into orbit, killed 21 people at the site in the north of the country.

Col Pontes had been training since 1998 for such a mission, which was originally to have been on a US space shuttle.

See the astronauts after their return to Earth

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