Russian Soyuz capsule with US space tourist lands in Kazakhstan

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Moscow, Oct 24 (UNI) Soyuz-TMA-12 space capsule carrying two Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko and American space tourist Richard Garriott landed in north-central Kazakhstan at 0907 hrs (IST) today.

Volkov and Kononenko, along with space tourist Garriott, returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS), Russia's Space Agency (Roskosmos) head, Anatoly Perminov told mediapersons at the Mission Control here.

''The landing was carried out right on schedule. I can not recall such an ideal landing as this one. All the cosmonauts are in great shape,'' Perminov said.

Two previous landings, in October last year and in April this year, experienced a steeper-than-normal reentry, raising concerns among Russian and US space experts over the safety of the Soyuz capsules.

''This mission was very successful. The crew conducted extensive work on docking the Japanese module Kibo to the ISS, carried out an unscheduled spacewalk and accomplished a number of other tasks,'' he said.

Garriott, the sixth space tourist to travel to the ISS, conducted a variety of scientific experiments during his 10-day stay on the orbiting station.

Volkov and Garriott became the first children of astronauts to meet in space. The Russian's father, Alexander, was orbiting the Earth when the USSR collapsed in 1991, while Owen Garriott flew a mission to the US space station Skylab in 1973.

Both fathers greeted their sons at the landing site today.

The cosmonauts and the US space tourist were taken to the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan by helicopter. They will then fly to Zvezdny Gorodok (Star City) in Russia's Moscow Region, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The current ISS crew comprises US astronaut Mike Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, and US astronaut Greg Chamitoff.

The latter remained onboard from the previous expedition and will be replaced by US astronaut Sandra Magnus in November.

The 18th Expedition crew will spend about six months in space and will carry out over 50 scientific experiments under the Russian space program, and a number of joint experiments with the European Space Agency.

The astronauts will also conduct at least two spacewalks, unload two Progress M cargo spacecraft, test a new, fully-computerised Orlan-MK space suit, and receive the crews of two US space shuttles.

The Expedition might become the last three-man crew on board the ISS due to plans to increase the number of astronauts manning the station to six starting from spring 2009.

UNI XC PD SK BD2115

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