Russian-US space crew lands in Kazakhstan

An initial attempt to return from the orbital outpost was foiled by an equipment problem on Friday.

Korolyov: A Soyuz capsule carrying two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut back to Earth from the International Space Station landed safely in Kazakhstan on Saturday.

"The TMA module has landed," an announcer at Mission Control outside Moscow said to applause from officials and relatives, relieved after an initial attempt to return from the orbital outpost was foiled by an equipment problem on Friday.

Space officials said the capsule landed upright, on time and on target near Arkalyk on the central Kazakh steppe.

NASA TV showed technicians crouching over the hatch of the gumdrop-shaped capsule and helping Soyuz commander Alexander Skvortsov out in his spacesuit.

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson was next out, smiling as she was carried to an armchair at the landing site and covered with a blue blanket.

As cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko was extracted from the hatch in the top of the cramped capsule, Dyson chatted on a satellite phone.

Skvortsov, Dyson and Korniyenko spent nearly six months aboard the International Space Station.

They were to have returned on Friday, but the descent was aborted after latches holding their Soyuz TMA-18 craft to the orbital station failed to open, sending puzzled engineers scrambling for answers.

NASA later said crew members rigged up a solution, attaching jumper cables to bypass a failed hatch sensor that was blocking commands, enabling the latches on the Russian-made Poisk module to open.

"Space station crew members installed a series of jumpers, bypassing a failed component that had prevented commands from being received by the Russian Poisk module`s docking mechanism," the US space agency said on its website.

Dyson, Skvortsov and Korniyenko boarded the space station on April 4 after a flight up together in the same Soyuz that took them back to Earth.

It separated smoothly from the docking port this time and landed in Kazakhstan at 11:23 am local time (0523GMT).

US space shuttles have delivered some astronauts to the orbital outpost, but single-use Russian Soyuz craft will ferry all crews after the NASA retires its shuttle fleet next year.

Earlier this year, Russia announced a halt to trips by millionaire space tourists to free capacity on Soyuz flights as the station has expanded to accommodate a permanent crew of six.

Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker remained aboard the station as planned after Saturday`s departure.

Bureau Report