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Three Crewmen Return to Earth in Russian Soyuz Spacecraft

A three-man crew landed in Kazakhstan early Sunday local time after a flight from the International Space Station. Brazilian Marcos Pontes joined an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut who had spent the last six months on the ISS.

Brazil's first astronaut Marcos Pontes emerged from the Soyuz smiling after the landing out on the vast plains of Kazakhstan in freezing temperatures.

American William MacArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev were also greeted by Russian rescue teams.

Numerous helicopters and an American flying hospital were on hand to assist the three men.

During his ten-days on the station, Pontes conducted various scientific experiments and mapped the surface of Brazil from his position in space.

Pontes is a 43-year-old Brazilian air force officer whose flight was followed closely by millions of Brazilians back home, where he has become a national hero.

U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov remain behind on the ISS for a stay of six months.

Among their tasks will be to prepare for the arrival of a U.S. space shuttle in July.

The shuttle is due to bring Thomas Reiter from Germany, who will also make an extended stay in space.

The flight will be only the second by an American shuttle since the Columbia broke apart on re-entry into earth's atmosphere three years ago, killing all seven astronauts
on board.

Since then the Russian Soyuz craft have served as the only link to the station, carrying crews and cargo to and from earth.

The shuttle Discovery did make a trip to the ISS last July but had problems with the foam insulation on its external fuel tank.