A Soyuz space capsule with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, U.S. astronaut Scott Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai, returning from a mission to the International Space Station landed safely on Sunday on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Shkaplerov was out of the capsule first and was pictured munching grapes as the support crew tended to him ahead of his journey back to Moscow. Soon after the Soyuz spacecraft touched down, helicopters were seen over the landing site before Russian cameras filmed the three astronauts emerging from the capsule. News agency Tass reported that it was to be used in the opening game, although this has not been confirmed by worldwide football federation Fifa.
According to the Russian agency TASS, that ball will be also used in the opening match of the World Cup, on June 14, in Moscow, although the information has not yet been confirmed by Federation Internationale de Football Association.
The ball, called Telstar 18, was taken to the ISS in March by the Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.
Three astronauts are preparing for a fiery re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere at more than 500mph, after five months in space and 2,688 orbits of their planet. Russia's piloted spacecraft Soyuz MS-09, which is scheduled to blast off this week to the International Space Station (ISS), has been installed on a launch pad at the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, Russia's State Space Corporation Roscosmos announced on Monday.
The three had been on the orbital laboratory since mid-December, with Shkaplerov, 46, serving as mission commander from February until he turned over command to American Drew Feustel on Saturday.