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Russian capsule was in danger

April 23, 2008|From the Associated Press

MOSCOW — The crew of the Soyuz space capsule that landed hundreds of miles off target in Kazakhstan last weekend was in serious danger during the descent, a Russian news agency reported Tuesday.

Interfax quoted an unidentified Russian space official as saying the capsule entered Earth's atmosphere Saturday with the hatch first, instead of its heat shield leading the way. The hatch sustained significant damage and the capsule's antenna burned up, meaning the crew couldn't communicate properly with Russian Mission Control, the official said.

The official said a valve that equalizes pressure in the capsule also was damaged.

Interfax said another official at the launch site in Kazakhstan reported that the U.S. military tracked the Soyuz's landing 260 miles from its planned touchdown and directed searchers to the site.

The Soyuz crew consisted of American astronaut Peggy Whitson, South Korea's first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko.

"Everything could have turned out much worse," the space official said. "You could say the situation was on a razor's edge."

Alexander Vorobyov, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Space Agency, confirmed that the descent had problems, but said it was common for a Soyuz hatch and antenna to have heat damage during reentry.

He said investigators classified the landing as a 3 on a 5-point scale of seriousness.

The crew returning from the International Space Station endured severe gravitational forces because the reentry was steeper than usual.

On Monday, Yi said during a news conference that she was frightened. "At first I was really scared," she said, "because it looked really, really hot and I thought we could burn."

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