ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (AFP) - Three astronauts returned safely to Earth from the International Space early Saturday, aboard a Russian capsule which landed on the freezing Kazakhstan steppe, mission control said.
"There is landing!" flashed a Russian mission control centre message transmitted by Nasa. Rescue teams rushed to recover the capsule carrying Nasa US astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin.
"The crew felt normal through the descent and landing, their mood is good," Russian agencies quoted the Russian mission control official commentator.
Saturday's landing had been delayed by a day due to poor weather conditions, but rescue helicopters still had to brace for thick ground fog and clouds which descended on the landing area and drastically reduced visibility.
The Soyuz vessel landed upright and four workers were shown prying the hatch open to extract the three men. They pulled the crew members out of the capsule and helped them down a special slide to the ground, letting them touch Earth for the first time since December.
Russian cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin pumped his fists as he sat on the edge of the capsule. The smiling men were then bundled up by the Russian rescue workers and sat recovering in special chairs.
The Soyuz TMA-06M Russian spacecraft had separated from the ISS on schedule and entered the earth atmosphere at about 0240GMT.
"Just closed the hatch on the departing crew. The echo rang through the Station in many ways, we are now 3 onboard this huge ship. So cool," wrote Chris Hadfield, a Canadian Astronaut who is now captain of the remaining ISS crew which also injcluded Nasa astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.
The current crew will remain in space until May 2013.