Astronauts land safely in Kazakhstan, one day late

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying an astronaut and two cosmonauts who lived six months on the International Space Station touched down safely, but one day late, Saturday morning in the cloudy, central steppes of Kazakhstan.

The homecoming of American astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson and Russia's Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko had been delayed after technical glitches hindered the undocking of the spacecraft.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias said in a Web-streamed report on the landing that the Soyuz craft landed at its planned landing spot at 11:23 a.m. local time.

"That was almost a bull's-eye landing," Navias said.

A dozen Russian recovery helicopters took flight ahead of the landing Saturday morning above an area southeast of the remote central Kazakh town Arkalyk to intercept the capsule.

Recovery workers arrived at the landing spot and erected a plaftorm around the slightly tilted capsule.

Skvortsov beamed with joy and held his fist aloft as the recovery team carefully lifted him out of the Soyuz.

After being hoisted out of the craft, the astronauts were immediately placed into reclining chairs to help them recover from the change in gravitational pull after spending 176 days in space.

Russian space officials and health workers then crowded around a smiling Skvortsov and handed him an apple, as is tradition.

Caldwell-Dyson, who looked weary but joyous, spoke with colleagues by satellite phone after being lowered into her chair and wrapped in a blanket.

By contrast with the previous day's attempt to depart the space station, undocking from the International Space Station was executed flawlessly.

The three astronauts remaining aboard the space station — Americans Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin — pumped their fists with joy as they watched a report on the landing via a direct feed.

Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, along with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, will join them after blasting off from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan on Oct. 8.

Undocking on Friday had been thwarted by signaling errors in the onboard computer system and a malfunction with the opening hooks and latches on the space station side of the capsule.

Space shuttle Discovery is set to lift off Nov. 1 for the International Space Station. Endeavour will follow in February to wrap up 30 years of shuttle flight.