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Space trio lands in Kazakhstan after bad weather delay

ALMATY (Reuters) - A Russian Soyuz capsule made a "bull's eye" landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Saturday, delivering a Russian-American trio from the International Space Station, a day after its originally scheduled touchdown was delayed by foul weather.

NASA's Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, who had manned the $100 billion orbital outpost since October as Expedition 34, landed in cloudy weather at 7:06 a.m. Moscow time (0306 GMT) northeast of the town of Arkalyk.

They had spent 144 days aboard the multinational ISS on their space journey of almost 61 million miles (98 million km).

"The landing was energetic and exciting," Russian TV showed Novitskiy as saying.

NASA television said the deorbit burn and other events during the descent had gone flawlessly. It said the capsule had landed upright, almost hitting its bull's eye target in thick fog.

"Oleg Novitskiy reported to search and recovery teams that the crew is feeling good," NASA television said. "Everything seems to be in order."

Due to hampered visibility, it took a few minutes before helicopters with Russian search and recovery teams could locate the Soyuz capsule after its landing.

The first images shown by Russia's Vesti-24 television featured rescue workers standing in a snow-covered steppe opening the hatch of the capsule.

The three smiling astronauts were seated on semi-reclined chairs and covered with blue thermal blankets. They were then carried to a nearby inflatable medical tent.

On Friday, fog and freezing rain at the landing site in Kazakhstan prevented helicopters from setting up for the crew's return to Earth.

In preparation for their departure, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took the helm of the space station on Wednesday, becoming the first Canadian to take command of the outpost.

It is only the second time in the 12-year history of the station, a project of 15 nations that has been permanently staffed since November 2000, that command has been turned over to someone who is not American or Russian.

Hadfield will be part of a three-man skeleton crew until NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin arrive later this month.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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