The 12th crew of the International Space Station landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan within the Baikonur Cosmodrome early Sunday morning as their Soyuz spacecraft parachuted to earth.
Commander Bill McArthur, flight engineer Valery Tokarev and first-time Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes touched down at 3:48 a.m. local time, about 35 miles northeast of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, after a three hour and 20 minute flight.
McArthur and Tokarev each had spent 190 days aboard the station, while Pontes had arrived March 31 with the Expedition 13 crew. He had spent his eight days conducting experiments and observing the Brazilian landscape from space.
McArthur and Tokarev will spend several weeks at the Russian Star City space complex, near Moscow, for debriefings and medical examinations. They had launched from Baikonur last Sept. 30 and docked with the station Oct. 3. During their stay they performed two spacewalks, continued station maintenance and did scientific experiments.
Before closing the last of the hatches linking the Soyuz to the station late Saturday, McArthur and Tokarev said farewell to Expedition 13 crew commander Pavel Vinogradov and science officer Jeffrey Williams.
The two crew members had launched with Pontes from Baikonur on March 29. During part of their six-month mission, they are scheduled to be joined by ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, from Germany, who is supposed to fly to the station aboard space shuttle Discovery sometime in July or August.
Reiter would become the first non-Russian, non-U.S. long-duration crewmember on station. He also would increase the station crew complement to three for the first time since May 2003, when the shuttle Columbia accident disrupted the facility's construction and research plans.
Vinogradov is a veteran of a 198-day mission aboard the Russian space station Mir, where he performed five spacewalks. Williams, a U.S. Army colonel, flew aboard shuttle Atlantis in May 2000. He did one spacewalk during that flight.