The crew were picked up by helicopter after being located
An astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS) who returned to Earth aboard a Russian spacecraft has described the crew's less-than-perfect landing.
A Soyuz capsule carrying the two Americans and a Russian landed heavily and at least 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the designated target site in the remote Kazakh steppe after a three-and-a-half hour journey from space.
It took rescue teams using 15 aircraft and 50 vehicles two hours to locate the capsule, which experts say might have returned to Earth on a steeper trajectory than planned.
After being located, they underwent medical checks and have now been taken to the Star City space centre outside Moscow to be debriefed.
The three men - Americans Ken Bowersox and Don Pettit and Russian Nikolai Budarin - were delayed on the space station by February's shuttle disaster, which was followed by the grounding of the entire US orbiter fleet.
I went outside and I saw beautiful brown earth, the greenest grass I've ever seen
Bowersox and Pettit were the first astronauts from US space agency (Nasa) to land in a foreign spacecraft.
Bowersox told the Associated Press news agency that he and his colleagues had seen the on-board computer indicate they were
coming in short before they landed on Earth.
"It's a lot scarier than landing on an aircraft carrier," he said.
He was very moved to be back on Earth after months in space, Bowersox told French news agency AFP.
"Kazakhstan is such a beautiful place," he said. "Today I looked out the window, I went outside and I saw beautiful brown earth, the greenest grass I've ever seen. It was fantastic."
The three astronauts - Expedition Six to the International Space Station - had spent more than five months on the orbiting platform.
They had had almost two extra months added to their mission following the Columbia disaster, to allow their replacements enough time to arrive on board another Soyuz.
At the time we needed them most, Russia, our partners,
Earlier this week, the departing three handed over to Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Ed Lu - Expedition Seven - after their Soyuz craft docked with the ISS.
Malenchenko and Lu had to give the departing crew instructions on how to operate the Soyuz capsule.
The two men are scheduled to remain on board until October.
Nasa administrator Sean O'Keefe said that without the
Russians and their Soyuz spacecraft, the station would have
had to be abandoned until shuttle flights resumed.
"At the time we needed them most, Russia, our partners,
have excelled," he said. "The International Space
Station goes on because of their commitment."
The space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on 1 February, killing all seven astronauts on board.