ASTRONAUTS from Canada, Belgium and Russia landed safely on the Kazakhstan steppes yesterday following a six-month stint on the International Space Station.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-15 capsule – carrying Canadian Bob Thirsk, Russian Roman Romanenko, and European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, of Belgium – touched down without a hitch near the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan’s barren north, Russian Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said. Parachutes slowed the craft to an easy touchdown at 10:15am Moscow time, as scheduled.

Russian medical teams arrived in all-terrain vehicles to help the crew out of the capsule, in a carefully choreographed recovery operation.

“The landing was very soft; we were lucky not to have any wind,” Romanenko said after leaving the capsule. “Everything went quite nicely; there were no problems whatsoever.”

A NASA doctor at the landing site said the three astronauts appeared to be doing very well after spending 188 days in space and their return to Earth.

The trio blasted off to the International Space Station on May 27. Their arrival marked the doubling of the station’s permanent crew to six people.

With the mission, all five of the international partner agencies – NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency – were represented in orbit together for the first time, helping burnish the station’s international credentials.

NASA’s Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Surayev remain on the station. They are to be joined later this month by Russian Oleg Kotov, NASA’s Timothy J. Creamer, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.