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First Korean astronaut returns to Earth

20 April, 2008

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MOSCOW: South Korea`s first astronaut returned to Earth on Saturday, touching down with two International Space Station crew members slightly off target in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, space officials said.

Russian television showed the Soyuz spacecraft parachuting onto the barren Kazakh steppe and officials helping Korean scientist Yi So-Yeon and her two colleagues from their cramped capsule.

"All of the cosmonauts are well," said Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, which managed the descent.

Yi, whose mission was hailed as a landmark for the Korean space programme, returned to Earth with Russian flight engineer Yury Malenchenko and US astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has now spent more time in space than any other American.

The three were plucked by Russian helicopters from the landing site in Kazakhstan, a Russian ally in Central Asia that has hosted the Russian space programme since the Soviet era, officials said.

They missed their target because they changed their landing plan at the last minute without telling mission control, delaying rescuers, said Roskosmos head Perminov in a televised press conference.

Yi, a biosystems engineer, carried out a series of experiments during her nine-day mission on the space station, which President Lee Myung-Bak has described as the start of a "march towards space" for South Korea.

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