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Soyuz returns to Earth with crew of 3

MOSCOW - A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts back from the International Space Station touched down safely in the snow-covered steppes of Kazakhstan early Tuesday morning.

NASA astronaut Michael Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan's JAXA space agency landed at the break of dawn some 56 miles north of the town of Arkalyk at 8:26 a.m. (0226 GMT) after spending 165 days in space.

The landing was close to its target point. NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said the recovery operation was swift despite the freezing weather and strong wind.

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Video from the site showed the Soyuz capsule, blackened by the intense heat of re-entry, lying on its side as the astronauts were extracted.

The three men looked well and smiling, although Furukawa looked visibly exhausted. They were seated in chairs and wrapped in warm blankets to help them get adjusted to gravity after spending five and a half months in space.

Valery Lyndin, spokesman for the Russian Mission Control Center, said all three astronauts are in good health.

Volkov, Furukawa and Fossum were flown to the town of Kustunay for a traditional Kazakh welcome ceremony where they will part ways. Volkov will be flying to a cosmonauts' training center outside Moscow, while Furukawa and Fossum will fly directly to Houston.

NASA's Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin remain onboard the International Space Station and are due to return to Earth in March. They arrived at the station last Wednesday. A launch next month will take the station back to its normal six-person crew.

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