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Russian-US space crew heads for Earth

A Soyuz craft carrying two Russian and a US astronaut successfully unhitched from the International Space Station and headed for Earth on Saturday, a day after an aborted attempt to leave the station.

world Updated: Sep 25, 2010 09:10 IST

A Soyuz craft carrying two Russian and a US astronaut successfully unhitched from the International Space Station and headed for Earth on Saturday, a day after an aborted attempt to leave the station.

The Russian-made Soyuz TMA-18 separated from the orbital outpost on schedule at 6:02 am Moscow time (0202 GMT), Russian and NASA space officials said. It was due to touch down on the Kazakh steppe at 9:22 am Moscow time (0522GMT).

"A very smooth undocking of Soyuz TMA-18," a commentator at NASA Mission Control in Houston said on NASA TV.

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Korniyenko, and NASA's Tracy Caldwell Dyson, had boarded the Soyuz on Friday for the descent.

But latches holding it to a Russian-made docking port on the station failed to open, scuttling their departure. Russian space officials said it was the first time such a problem had occurred.

NASA later said the latches had opened successfully after crew members rigged up a solution, setting the stage for the second undocking attempt.

"Space station crew members installed a series of jumpers, bypassing a failed component that had prevented commands from being received by the Russian Poisk module's docking mechanism," the US space agency said on its website.

Dyson, Skvortsov and Korniyenko boarded the space station on April 4 after a flight up together in the same Soyuz that was taking them back to Earth.

US space shuttles have delivered some astronauts to the orbital outpost, but single-use Russian Soyuz craft will ferry all crews after the NASA retires its shuttle fleet next year.

Earlier this year, Russia announced a halt to trips by millionaire space tourists to free capacity on Soyuz flights as the station has expanded to accommodate a permanent crew of six.

Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker remained aboard the station as planned after Saturday's departure.