|http://www.sina.com.cn 2005/04/28 21:00 国际在线|
A Russian, an American and an Italian climbed out of a Russian space capsule early Monday after hurtling home to Earth from the international space station, where a new crew is preparing to welcome the first space shuttle flight after a two-year hiatus.
The TMA-5 capsule made a soft upright landing on the steppes of northern Kazakhstan in the early-morning darkness less than 3 1/2 hours after it had undocked from the orbiting outpost.
Search-and-rescue helicopters spotted the capsule floating under a parachute toward its designated arrival site about 50 miles north of the Kazakh town of Arkalyk.
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. NASA is hoping to renew shuttle flights sometime next month.
Russian helicopters and planes had been on call Monday, along with a U.S. medical team, near Arkalyk, but many of the helicopters had to turn back to Arkalyk without landing at the site because the ground was swampy with melted snow. Engineers followed the capsule's journey through space on a map projected on a large screen at Russian Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow, and communicated with the crew as it sped toward the Earth.
"Again our Russian colleagues have shown how flexible they can be in the face of such daunting weather conditions in the landing zone to safely recover the crew," William Readdy, the U.S. space agency NASA's associate administrator for space operations, told reporters at Mission Control.
After landing, Italian Roberto Vittori, Russian Salizhan Sharipov and American Leroy Chiao were whisked to a mobile hospital for a quick checkup; more thorough examinations were to be conducted after the crew members arrived later Monday at Star City, the cosmonaut training center outside Moscow.
Vittori, a European Space Agency astronaut, had spent eight days on the international space station, while Sharipov and Chiao had been on the orbiting lab since October. Mission Control said Sharipov had reported that the crew were feeling fine.
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 disaster two years ago.
Russian space officials were relieved to have avoided a repeat of the May 2003 return to Earth by the space station crew, when the Soyuz capsule went 250 miles off course due to a computer error, prompting a frantic search over the steppes.
The TMA-5 undocked at 10:44 p.m. Moscow time on Sunday, after a four-minute delay caused by problems with the hermetic seals on Vittori's spacesuit, Mission Control officials said. The capsule entered the atmosphere about three hours later, and its parachute opened 15 minutes before the scheduled landing time of 2:07 a.m. Monday.
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