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    Space station astronauts return to earth


    by ODN


    A Soyuz spacecraft carrying two Americans and a Russian from the International Space Station (ISS) has touched down in Kazakhstan in a landing that the Russian space programme's chief described as ideal.

    Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and astronauts Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock touched down in the steppes of the Central Asian nation about three-and-a-half hours after separating from the ISS.

    Video from the scene showed the astronauts and cosmonauts being extracted from the capsule in apparently good condition, still strapped into their seats.

    Working in frigid temperatures, Russian recovery teams were on hand to help the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and re-adjust to gravity.

    Yurchikhin will return to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, outside of Moscow, while Wheelock and Walker are expected to fly directly home to Houston, Texas.

    As members of the Expedition 24 and 25 crews, they spent 163 days in space, 161 of them aboard the station, and celebrated the 10th anniversary of continuous human life, work and research by international crews aboard the station on November 2.

    During their mission, the astronauts responded to an emergency shutdown of half of the station's external cooling system and supported three unplanned spacewalks by Wheelock to replace the faulty pump module that caused the shutdown.

    A new trio of Expedition 26 flight engineers, NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on December 15. They will dock with the station and join its crew on December 17.