Anousheh Ansari, the world's first female paying space tourist, returned to Earth on Friday after an 11-day sojourn in space capped by the bone-jarring journey from the international space station.
Ansari, Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and US astronaut Jeffrey Williams had left the station aboard a cramped Russian Soyuz capsule a little over three hours before landing as dawn broke over the steppes of Kazakhstan.
After the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere, search and rescue teams in three planes and 12 helicopters tracked the trajectory and scrambled to help pull the crew out of the craft, which landed on its side.
Officials monitoring the landing from Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow applauded after confirming that the capsule had landed in the target zone around 90 km north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 6.44 am. The crew felt well, Mission Control said.
Ansari, wrapped in a fur-lined blanket to guard against the early morning chill, smiled as she sat in a chair surrounded by high grass after exiting the Soyuz. An unidentified official presented her with a large bouquet of red roses. Vinogradov, munching a red apple, and Williams sat in chairs nearby. Temperatures hovered around minus 3 Celsius.
Ansari's husband Hamid surprised her, coming up from behind her chair. Rescuers then picked up all three chairs and carried them to waiting helicopters for the flight to Kustanai, Kazakhstan, where they were to board a plane for the trip to the Russian cosmonauts' training center at Star City outside Moscow.