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ISS Expedition 16 crew back on terra firma

Soyuz capsule touches down in Kazakhstan

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The crew of ISS Expedition 16 and Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon are safely back on terra firma following a safe touch-down of their Soyuz capsule in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Saturday - albeit around 295 miles from their intended landing site.

Yi, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko returned to Earth at about 08:30 GMT. Whitson, 48, now holds the record for the most time spent in space of any US astronaut - a total of 377 days on two missions - claiming the title previously held by Mike Foale who clocked up 374 days over six flights.

Whitson's first gig was a 185-day jaunt with Expedition 5 in 2002. Her second outing, which began on 10 October last year, added 192 days.

Malenchenko, meanwhile, now ranks ninth* in the international accumulated time league, with an impressive 515 days in space during his four missions. As well as 126 days aboard Russian space station Mir in 1994, he commanded 2006's Expedition 7, and spent 185 days in space. He was also on board space shuttle Atlantis for its 12-day STS-106 mission to the ISS in 2000.

The ISS is now manned by Expedition 17 crew commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineers Oleg Kononenko and Garrett Reisman. Volkov and Konenko blasted off for the outpost on 8 April, while Reisman arrived aboard space shuttle Endeavour on the STS-123 mission, which launched on 11 March.

The two Russians will be relieved in autumn by Expedition 18, before which they'll be visited by Discovery's STS-124 mission (summary here (pdf)), slated for a 31 May lift-off.

STS-124 will deliver the pressurised module of Japan's Kibo laboratory and its remote manipulator system, aka RMS, consisting of "two robotic arms that support operations outside of Kibo", drop off astronaut Greg Chamitoff, and subsequently whisk Reisman back to Earth. ®

Bootnote

*The current record is 803 days, set by Sergei Krikalev in 2005.

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