ISS astronauts make safe return

2012-04-27 16:00

Moscow - Three astronauts on Friday landed safely in the Kazakh steppe aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule after a stay of almost six months aboard the International Space Station.

Russian army helicopters patrolled the skies as the silver metal capsule parachuted gracefully through the clear blue sky before touching down softly into a field of straw and early spring grass before rolling over gently to its side

Live Nasa TV footage showed a well-equipped team of medics and space officials unseal the capsule and pull out a smiling Anton Shkaplerov - awarded the honour of breathing the fresh air first because he occupied the middle seat in the capsule.

Shkaplerov appeared "in good shape and none the worse for wear", a Nasa commentator said as he emerged.

He called it a "bulls-eye landing for sure".

It was the last touch-down performed by the older analogue version of the Soyuz capsule before it is replaced by a more updated digital technology version.

Shkaplerov and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Ivanishin and American Dan Burbank will be replaced by a new crew that is due to take off from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 15.

They will be joining Oleg Kononenko of Russia and Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands as well as Nasa's Don Pettit of the US on a mission that is also expected to last about six months.