MISSION CONTROL (Moscow Region), October 24 (RIA Novosti) - A Soyuz-TMA-12 space capsule carrying two Russian cosmonauts and an American space tourist landed in north-central Kazakhstan at 9.37 a.m. (03:37 GMT) on Friday. (IMAGES)
Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, along with space tourist Richard Garriott, returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) in what Russia's Space Agency head, Anatoly Perminov, described as an "ideal" landing.
"The landing was carried out right on schedule. I can not recall such an ideal landing as this one. All the cosmonauts are in great shape," he told reporters in Moscow.
Two previous landings - in October last year and in April - experienced a steeper-than-normal reentry, raising concerns among Russian and American space experts over the safety of the Soyuz capsules.
"This mission was very successful. The crew conducted extensive work on docking the Japanese module Kibo to the ISS, carried out an unscheduled spacewalk, and accomplished a number of other tasks," Perminov said.
Richard Garriott, the sixth space tourist to travel to the ISS, conducted a variety of scientific experiments during his 10-day stay on the orbiting station.
Volkov and Garriott became the first children of astronauts to meet in space. The Russian's father, Alexander, was orbiting the Earth when the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991, while Owen Garriott flew a mission to the U.S. space station Skylab in 1973.
Both fathers greeted their sons at the landing site on Friday.
The cosmonauts and the U.S. space tourist were taken to the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan by helicopter. They will then fly to Zvezdny Gorodok (Star City) in Russia's Moscow Region.
The current ISS crew comprises U.S. astronaut Mike Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, and U.S. astronaut Greg Chamitoff. The latter remained onboard from the previous expedition and will be replaced by U.S. astronaut Sandra Magnus in November.
The 18th Expedition crew will spend about six months in space and will carry out over 50 scientific experiments under the Russian space program, and a number of joint experiments with the European Space Agency.
In addition, the astronauts will conduct at least two spacewalks, unload two Progress M cargo spacecraft, test a new, fully-computerized Orlan-MK space suit, and receive the crews of two U.S. space shuttles.
The 18th Expedition may become the last three-man crew on board the ISS due to plans to increase the number of astronauts manning the station to six starting from spring 2009.