Russia's Soyuz 26 spacecraft, with three U.S. and Russian crew members aboard, began its descent back to Earth late Sept. 15, ending their 164 day mission to the International Space Station.
Alexander Samokutyaev, who was in command of the capsule; Andrey Borisenko, the previous space station commander; and Ron Garan, an American station flight engineer, were expected to touchdown under parachute on Sept. 16 at midnight, EDT, or 10 a.m. in the landing zone of southern Kazakhstan.
The three men undocked from the space station at 8:38 p.m., EDT, with no difficulties.
The deorbit burn followed at 11:05 p.m., EDT.
"Its been great working with you," said American Mike Fossum, who assumed command of the station from Borisenko. Fossum, Russian Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa, who boarded the station in June, will remain aboard the orbital base until until Nov. 22.
Under a new staffing plan approved by the U. S.-led Space Station Control Board just prior to the Soyuz 26 departure, they will be joined by newcomers Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov, both of Russia, and NASA's Dan Burbank aboard the Soyuz 28 on Nov. 16, two days after lifting off from the Baiknonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
If the flight plan holds, space station managers will not have to consider a temporary de-staffing of the outpost in late November.
The launching of the replacements had been on hold since the Aug. 24 loss of a Progress supply capsule. The Progress crash was blamed on a manufacturing flaw in the third stage of the Soyuz-U launcher. The third stage is similar to the Soyuz-FG used to launch space station crews.
Russian investigators have worked quickly to identify the cause of the crash, a manufacturing flaw in the third stage propulsion system.
Helicopter-borne search and rescue teams were staged in Kazakh landing zone to quickly assist the Soyuz 26 crew.
After they climbed from the capsule, the three men were to be flown by helicopter to Karaganda. They will separate in the historic Kazakh city, with Samokutyaev and Borisenko boarding an airplane for Star City, Russia. Garan will be flown by NASA jet to Houston, Tex., home to NASA's Johnson Space Center.