Mission accomplished: US astronauts are home at last

American astronaut Mike Fincke and Russian commander Gennady Padalka descended to Earth in remote Kazakstan late Saturday aboard a Soyuz space capsule.

The landing ended a mission that began six months ago for the two men. &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/18/88/354/13689_iss.html' target=_blank>Fincke, Padalka and a third cosmonaut, Yuri Shargin, were flown from their landing site by helicopter and jet transport to Star City, informs Houston Chronicle.

Fincke greeted his 4-month-old daughter for the first time on Sunday, hours after he descended to Earth in Central Asia to end a marathon mission aboard the international space station.

"My name is Daddy," Fincke said as he stepped from a jet transport at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, and planted a kiss on Tarali Paulina, who was born in Houston on June 18.

According to The Globe and Mail, a Russian-American crew returned to Earth from the international space station yesterday in a pinpoint landing on the Kazakhstan steppe, and U.S. space officials said Washington wants to continue the joint relationship on future missions to Mars.

Search crews took just 14 minutes to reach the capsule.

Russian rockets and the non-reusable Soyuz space craft have been the only way American astronauts have been able to reach the space station since the U.S. shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia burned up on re-entry in February, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

&to=http://english.pravda.ru/world/2003/10/18/50592.html' target=_blank>Soyuz spacecraft, which have a lifespan of about six months, serve as lifeboats for the space station. Before the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in February 2003, incoming and outgoing station crews traveled via space shuttle.

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