Space tourist Anousheh Ansari and crew return to Earth

The capsule carrying the world's first female space tourist touched down Friday on the Kazakh steppe after a bone-jarring journey from the international space station.

Anousheh Ansari, Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams had left the station aboard a cramped Russian Soyuz capsule about three hours earlier. 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 the crew out of the craft.

Officials monitoring the landing from Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow applauded after confirming that the capsule had landed in the target zone near Arkalyk, Kazakhstan. The crew felt well, Mission Control said, reports Houston Chronicle.

According to EastDay, the capsule started the descent more than three hours before touchdown, after undocking from the ISS. At the landing site near the town of Arkalyk, search and rescue teams and helicopters were on call as the small capsule's engines fired a final braking burst to cushion the landing.

Ansari, 40, who runs a telecommunications company in Texas, conducted a series of blood and muscular experiments for the European Space Agency during her nine-day stay on the station.

Previous space tourists reportedly paid about US$20 million apiece for a ride aboard the Soyuz.

Vinogradov and Williams were working on the orbiting outpost since April. They have left behind Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, US astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and German astronaut Thomas Reiter on the ISS.