16 Sep 2011

Astronauts land safely in Kazakhstan

10:39 pm on 16 September 2011

A Russian Soyuz space capsule with three astronauts on board has landed safely in Kazakhstan, leaving a single three-man crew aboard the International Space Station.

United States astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev, who had manned the station since April this year, appeared in good health after landing on the Kazakh steppe at 9.59am local time on Friday.

The Soyuz capsule landed on its side, whipping up plumes of dust as it settled on the steppe, 148km southeast of the city of Zhezkazgan, Reuters reports.

Samokutyaev was first to emerge, appearing in good spirits as a doctor performed initial medical checks.

Garan was second to be extracted from the capsule, followed by former station commander Borisenko, who flashed a thumbs-up signal before the men were carried on their chairs to a makeshift inflatable hospital for further checks.

NASA says the returning crew had spent 164 days in space.

Their replacements - NASA flight engineer Dan Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin - were scheduled to arrive on 24 September at the International Space Station, a $US100 billion project involving 16 countries.

But their flight was delayed following a launch accident on 24 August involving an unmanned Russian cargo ship bound for the station.

The new crew is now scheduled to fly on 14 November, NASA said, arriving at the station two days later.

In the meantime, one crew - comprising station commander Mike Fossum, Japanese flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov - will remain.