Business, Finance & Economics

Russian spacecraft with three astronauts lands

A Russian spacecraft carrying three astronauts from the International Space Station has landed safely back to Earth after 164 days in space.

The mission aboard a Soviet-era capsule - which arrived in the central steppes of Kazakhstan about 10am local time - follows an unprecedented spate of Russian space accidents.

Prior to landing, there were a nerve-wracking several minutes when communications broke down.

Repeated calls to the Soyuz TMA-21 capsule from Mission Control in Korolyov, near Moscow, went unanswered for several minutes, well after the craft had left its orbit of the Earth, the UK's Telegraph reports.

Communication was eventually established between the crew and a plane circling the landing site.

"A bullseye landing for the Soyuz TMA-21," a NASA commentator said in a live video feed while Russian mission control flashed a message on its screen reading: "Landing confirmed!" ABC reports.

Nasa astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev, who had manned the International Space Station since April, landed on the Kazakh steppe at 9.59am local time, 93 miles southeast of the city of Zhezkazgan.

ABC reports:

A smiling but weary commander Alexander Samokutyaye was later shown being carried out of the capsule in the arms of Kazakh rescue workers under a dazzling blue sky.

The two Russians and their NASA counterpart had earlier said heartfelt goodbyes to their three colleagues on board the station following an eventful mission that at one stage saw them mulling the possibility of a forced evacuation.

"It was great sharing space with you," the next mission's commander Mike Fossum told the departing crew as they started their journey home over northern China.

The Soviet-era vessel left behind a skeleton crew of three - NASA's Fossum and Russia's Sergei Volkov along with Japanese flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa - on board the orbiter at one of the most tense times in its storied history.

After landing, all three astronauts were examined by medical staff after leaving the capsule and appeared to be in good spirits, the Telegraph reports.

The returning crew's replacements – Nasa flight engineer Dan Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin – were scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on 24 September.

But their flight was delayed after a launch accident on August 24 involving an unmanned Russian cargo ship bound for the station.

The next launch of a manned Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS is scheduled for Nov 12, Associated Press reports.