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Russian torch-bearers, U.S. astronaut to return from space station

Source: Reuters - Mon, 10 Mar 2014 21:36 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Updates with landing scheduled for Tuesday, as initially planned)

MOSCOW, March 11 (Reuters) - An American astronaut and two Russians who carried a Sochi Olympic torch into open space are scheduled to return to Earth on Tuesday after 166 days aboard the International Space Station, officials said.

A Soyuz craft carrying cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, along with NASA's Mike Hopkins, is due to touch down in Kazakhstan at 0924 local time (0324 GMT/2324 EDT Monday) after a three-hour descent from the orbital station.

Citing bad weather around the landing site on the Kazakh steppe, officials had said late on Monday that the landing would be postponed until Wednesday, but a state commission that met around midnight decided to go ahead with the original plan.

"It is all as it was initially," Natalya Zavyalova, a spokeswoman for Russian mission control, said by telephone.

"The weather may have improved," she said, but added that she had not been informed of the reason for the decision.

On Monday, fog and low visibility had prevented airborne rescue and recovery teams from getting to Zhezkazgan, a town 150 km (90 miles) from the remote landing site on the windswept flatlands, a Russian space industry source said.

The source also said snow on the steppe could hamper movement by all-terrain vehicles.

The Soyuz TMA-10M is to undock from the ISS just after 6 a.m. Kazakhstan time on Tuesday (0000GMT/8:00 p.m. Monday EDT).

Kotov and Ryazansky took an unlit Olympic torch on a spacewalk in November and posed with it outside the ISS. The torch was used to light the flame at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games in the Russian city of Sochi last month.

On Sunday, Koichi Wakata, 50, became the first Japanese national to oversee a manned space mission, when Kotov handed him command of the ISS, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 420 km (260 miles) above Earth. (Additonal reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alistair Lyon)

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