Arkalyk, Kazakhstan A space capsule carrying a U.S.-Russian-Italian crew landed safely on the steppes of northern Kazakhstan early today, following a mission aboard the international space station.
Search-and-rescue helicopters spotted the Russian TMA-5 capsule as it floated toward its arrival site about 50 miles north of the Kazakh town of Arkalyk and made a soft landing, upright. It had undocked with the orbiting station less than 3 1/2 hours earlier.
Space officials and medical staff traveled to the landing site to welcome American Leroy Chiao, Russian Salizhan Sharipov and Italian Roberto Vittori.
Vittori, a European Space Agency astronaut, had spent eight days on the station, while Sharipov and Chiao have been on the orbiting lab since October.
Remaining behind on the station were Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and American astronaut John Phillips, whose six-month mission is slated to include welcoming the first U.S. space shuttle flight since the Columbia shuttle disaster two years ago.
Russia's space program has been the only way of getting astronauts to the station since the Columbia disintegrated as it returned to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003, sparking a suspension of shuttle flights. The U.S. space agency NASA is hoping to renew shuttle flights sometime next month.