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Didgeridoo left on Space Station

Extract from BBC News, on 4 May 2003


More than 65 vehicles searched for the crewThe capsule carrying three astronauts stranded on the International Space Station by the shuttle disaster, has been found safe after a nerve-wracking desert search.

It took rescue teams a tense two hours to locate the Soyuz capsule, which returned to Earth at least 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the designated target site in Kazakhstan.

Russian officials appeared to lose track of the craft - carrying two Americans astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut - as communications with the module went down minutes before landing.

A search party of 15 planes and 50 cars scoured the deserts of Kazakhstan for the Soyuz module, which had touched down shortly after 0200GMT after a three-and-a-hlaf hour journey.

Americans Ken Bowersox and Don Pettit were the first astronauts from US space agency Nasa to land in a foreign spacecraft.

It was the only way home for the Americans, as Nasa grounded its shuttles following the Columbia disaster in February in which seven astronauts died.

Relief at mission control

A radio signal sent out by the craft before it lost contact was too weak for the search party to use it to the location, but a rescue aeroplane finally spotted the capsule at 0421 GMT.

We are all very happy. It just took a little longer than we anticipated

Nasa official

Applause broke out at mission control just outside Moscow after the announcement.

"We are all very happy. It just took a little longer than we anticipated," said Allard Beutel, a Nasa official there.

The astronauts had managed to open the hatch and get out of the vessel an hour-and-a-half after the landing, officials said.

Helicopters were sent to the site to pick up the crew. Cramped in the capsule with the Americans was Russian Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin.

Mission extended

The men - Expedition Six - had spent more than five months on the International Space Station (ISS).

They had had almost two extra months added to their mission following the Columbia disaster, to allow their replacements enough time to arrive on board another Soyuz.

The Soyuz "taxi" had a perfect docking with the ISS

The space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on 1 February.

Earlier this week, the departing three handed over to Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Ed Lu - Expedition Seven - after their Soyuz craft docked with the ISS.

Malenchenko and Lu had to give the departing crew instructions on how to operate the Soyuz capsule.

Belongings stashed

Because the Soyuz is a more cramped vehicle than a space shuttle, the three men were able to bring very little back with them.

All of their other belongings from 161 days in space, including a didgeridoo that Pettit used to entertain his young twin sons during video conferences, have been left behind in bags. They will be collected by the next visiting space shuttle - whenever that might be.

Lu and Malenchenko have visited the ISS before - in 2000, before it was permanently occupied. They worked on the exterior of the platform together.

The Soyuz craft that took them there will remain in orbit as an "emergency lifeboat" should catastrophe ever strike the platform.

The men are scheduled to remain on board until October.


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