South Korean astronaut OK after rough landing
KAZAKH STEPPE |
KAZAKH STEPPE (Reuters) - A Russian space capsule landed about 260 miles off course in Kazakhstan on Saturday but South Korea's first astronaut and the other two crew were safe.
The Soyuz capsule landed west of the target area and about 20 minutes past the scheduled time after it adopted a so-called "ballistic landing", space officials said. Rescue helicopters rushed to the site.
"The capsule landed with an overshoot. Such things happen," said mission control spokesman Valery Lyndin.
He said the crew had begun leaving the capsule, which carried Yi So-yeon, a 29-year old nanotechnology engineer from Seoul, U.S. commander Peggy Whitson and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko.
A Reuters photographer, who traveled to the landing site in a helicopter with rescue crews, saw plumes of smoke rising from the capsule, which was lying in its side stamped about 30 cm into the ground with its parachute burning.
The photographer said the U.S. astronaut looked pale and was not fit enough to take part in a brief news conference. He said the Korean and the Russian looked fine as they traveled in a helicopter from the site to the Kazakh city of Kustanai.
He said the Korean had been dozing in the helicopter most of the way back to Kustanai but started smiling and made a flower drawing on the wall after she was served tea and had her blood pressure measured.
"Even though it is a very small place you can float back and fourth under each other, over each other," smiling Yi So-yeon told in English of her experiences in zero gravity environment at the International Space Station.
Russian space officials back at mission control in Moscow had waited nervously before confirmation came that all three were safe and their health was satisfactory.
The capsule landed so far off course because of a ballistic landing when the capsule follows a much steeper and shorter trajectory to earth, Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's Federal Space Agency, told reporters.
A ballistic landing puts much higher gravity loads on the astronauts as the capsule spins towards earth.
"The crew did not report that they had taken the ballistic landing course on re-entry," Perminov told a news conference, adding that the incident will be investigated.
Russian space officials said the capsule landed close to the Kazakh border, just south-east of the Russian city of Orsk.
Yi became the first South Korean aboard the International Space Station earlier this month.
In October last year, the Soyuz capsule carrying Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, an orthopedic surgeon from Kuala Lumpur, touched down about 125 miles off course in a similar ballistic landing caused by a cable glitch.
A U.S.-Russian crew lost radio contact on re-entry and landed almost 500 km off target during a Soyuz landing in May 2003. The crew had to wait for over two hours before they were located by rescue groups.
The Soyuz is the world's longest-serving manned space capsule. It was an early version of the craft, the Vostok, that took the world's first cosmonaut into orbit in 1961.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski)
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