A Russian space capsule carrying the Sochi Olympic torch and three astronauts returned to Earth today from the International Space Station in a flawless landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan. The Soyuz capsule landed at 8:49 local time, about three and a half hours after undocking from the station with Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, American Karen Nyberg, and Luca Parmitano of Italy aboard. The unlit Olympic torch was brought to the ISS on Thursday when three new crew members arrived. Two Russian crew members took it on a spacewalk Saturday.
The capsule descended through brilliantly clear skies under a parachute. Yurchikhin, the mission commander, was extracted from the capsule within about 10 minutes of touchdown and carried to a reclining chair, where he was put under a blanket against the 25-degree chill and began adjusting to the pull of gravity after 166 days of weightlessness. The torch, in a protective bag, was brought out and given to Yurchikhin to hold. Nyberg was given dark glasses to protect her eyes against the intense sunlight. Parmitano, the last out, appeared thrilled, grinning broadly and pumping his fists. Next: a welcome ceremony in the city of Karaganda.