MOSCOW – A Soyuz capsule carrying South Korea's first astronaut landed in northern Kazakhstan Saturday, several hundred kilometers off-target, Russian space officials said.
Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said the condition of the crew — South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon, American astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko — was satisfactory, though the three had been subjected to severe G-forces during the re-entry.
The Russian TMA-11 craft touched down around 0830 GMT some 260 miles off target, Lyndin said — a highly unusual distance given how precisely engineers plan for such landings. It was also around 20 minutes later than scheduled.
Officials said the craft followed a so-called "ballistic re-entry" — a very steep trajectory that subjects the crew to extreme physical force.
Lyndin said the crew had experienced gravitational forces up to 10 times those on Earth during the descent.
The crew were being examined on site by medical officials, and were later to return to Moscow for further evaluation.
It is the second landing in a row of a Soyuz capsule that has gone awry.
Last October, a technical glitch sent a Soyuz spacecraft carrying Malaysia's first space traveler and two Russian cosmonauts on a steeper-than-normal path during their return to Earth.
A similar problem occurred in May 2003 when the crew also experienced a steep, off-course landing. It then took salvage crews several hours to locate the spacecraft because of communications problems.
Yi traveled to the station on April 10, along with cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, who have replaced Whitson and Malenchenko.
South Korea paid Russia $20 million for Yi's flight.
Whitson and Malenchenko spent roughly six months performing experiments and maintaining the orbiting station.
American astronaut Garrett Reisman, who arrived last month on the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour, is also on board the station.