ALMATY, Kazakhstan – A Soyuz capsule with two Russians and an American on board touched down safely Friday afternoon in mild weather on the sweeping steppes of central Kazakhstan.

The three-man crew, comprising Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin and NASA’s Daniel Burbank, returned to earth after a 163-day stay on the International Space Station.

The Russian-made module gently landed on schedule at 1145 GMT, throwing up a puff of earth in a remote and dusty location north of the central Kazakh town of Arkalyk.

Eight search-and-rescue helicopters circled the landing site to ensure a speedy recovery process.

NASA television broadcast vivid images of the capsule carried by a parachute swaying slightly as it floated downward in the clear skies while six all-terrain vehicles approached the landing spot in a well-rehearsed procedure.