American, two other astronauts land after journey

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ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (AP) – A capsule carrying Brazil’s first astronaut, along with a Russian and an American, landed in the Kazakh steppe early Sunday after separating from the international space station and hurtling through the Earth’s atmosphere.

American astronaut Bill McArthur, Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and Brazilian Marcos Pontes touched down on target and on schedule.

Officials at Russia’s Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow, reported that the capsule had been in radio contact for much of the bone-jarring, 3½-hour journey and that all three crew members were feeling well. The TMA-7 landed on its side about 30 miles northeast of Arkalyk after what Mission Control officials called a flawless flight.

McArthur and Tokarev had spent more than six months on the space station. They were replaced by Russian commander Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. flight engineer Jeff Williams, who arrived at the station together with Pontes on April 1. Pontes had traveled to the station for a weeklong stint.

Along with the Brazilian-U.S.-Russian crew, the capsule brought back to Earth snails, worms and peas grown in space as part of their experiments aloft, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

The American space program has depended on the Russians for cargo and astronaut delivery since the February 2003 Columbia disaster grounded the shuttle fleet. The shuttle Discovery visited the station last July but problems with the external fuel tank’s foam insulation have cast doubt on when shuttles might return to flying.

More than 15 helicopters and other aircraft and some 150 salvage crew were deployed to the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan, the area where the Soyuz capsule landed. The capsule was spotted when it was about a mile above the Earth, Russian Mission Control said.

Ground crews reached the capsule less than 10 minutes after the landing to open up the hatch. McArthur, shown on a Mission Control screen as he was still strapped inside the capsule, looked dazed after the 250-mile trip from the space station.

Pontes, seated in a chair, grinned and gave a thumbs-up sign as his bulky spacesuit was removed.

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