Weather delays return from space of Russian torchbearers, U.S. astronaut

by Reuters
Monday, 10 March 2014 18:50 GMT

MOSCOW, March 10 (Reuters) - An American astronaut and two Russians who carried a Sochi Olympic torch into open space will have to stay in orbit one day longer than planned because of bad weather on the steppes of Kazakhstan, officials said on Monday.

Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky had been scheduled to leave the International Space Station (ISS) along with NASA's Mike Hopkins early on Tuesday and touch down in Kazakhstan at 0924 local time (2324 EDT Monday).

Instead, their Soyuz TMA-10M craft is now expected to depart about a day later and land on Wednesday at about 1015 (0015 EDT), Russian news agencies cited officials at the Gagarin cosmonaut training centre outside Moscow as saying.

Heavy fog and low visibility prevented airborne rescue and recovery teams from getting close to the remote landing site on the windswept flatlands near the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan on Monday, a Russian space industry source said.

Deep snow on the steppe could also make it tough for all-terrain vehicles to reach the crew, the source said.

Kotov and Ryazansky took an unlit Olympic torch on a spacewalk in November and posed with it outside the ISS. The torch was used to light the flame at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games in the Russian city of Sochi last month.

On Sunday, Koichi Wakata, 50, became the first Japanese national to oversee a manned space mission, when Kotov handed him command of the ISS, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 420 km (260 miles) above Earth. (Additonal reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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