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Soyuz with 3 astronauts lands in Kazakhstan

MOSCOW -- A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts back from the International Space Station touched down safely in the snow-covered steppes of Kazakhstan early yesterday morning.

NASA astronaut Michael Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan's JAXA space agency landed at the break of dawn, 56 miles north of the town of Arkalyk, after spending 165 days in space.

The landing was close to its target. NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said the recovery operation was swift despite freezing weather and strong wind.

Video from the site showed the Soyuz capsule, blackened by the intense heat of re-entry, lying on its side as the astronauts were extracted.

The three looked well and smiling, although Furukawa looked exhausted. They were seated in chairs and wrapped in warm blankets to help them get adjusted to gravity.

Valery Lyndin, spokesman for the Russian Mission Control Center, said all three astronauts are in good health.

Volkov, Furukawa and Fossum were flown to the town of Kustunay for a traditional Kazakh welcome ceremony where they will part ways. Volkov will fly to a cosmonauts' training center outside Moscow, while Furukawa and Fossum will fly directly to Houston.

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NASA's Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who arrived at the International Space Station last Wednesday, are to return to Earth in March. A launch next month will take the station back to its normal six-person crew. -- AP

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