Russian space capsule to return to Earth

A US-Russian crew prepared today to bid goodbye to the International Space Station and hurtle back to Earth inside a Russian space capsule, ending a six-month mission in space.

The Soyuz TMA-4, a bell-shaped capsule, was scheduled to disconnect from the orbiting outpost at 1:07 a.m. Moscow time Sunday (0137 IST tomorrow), and carry its crew on a speedy 3 1/2-hour trip home.

If all goes as planned, the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Soyuz should thump down beneath a parachute at 4:37 a.m. Moscow time (0627 IST) in Kazakhstan's barren steppe, where American and Russian officials will be waiting in helicopters for the first sign of the craft as it races through the morning sky, informs the Economic Times.

According to Reuters, on board will be American Michael Fincke and Russian Gennady Padalka who have been six months in space. The third crew member, Russian Yuri Shagrin, flew to the ISS 10 days ago.

Scores of Russian space and military specialists have taken up position for the landing of the capsule, which will be charred black after re-entry.

"It will be night, about an hour-and-a-half before dawn. Total darkness, so the rescue helicopters will maintain a safe distance until the capsule has landed," said Colonel Mikhail Polukhin, a coordinator of the recovery operation.

"The darkness makes the search significantly harder."

After landing, the crew is usually given a quick medical checkup in a tent erected on the often windy steppe before beginning a journey back to Moscow's Star City, the home-base of Russia's space program.

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