By DANIEL MILLER
Tight squeeze: American Cmdr. Mike Fossum and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa and Sergei Volkov in the cramped Russian capsule as they return from a six month mission.
Astronauts returning from the International Space Station were brought down to earth in more ways than one with a bargain basement Russian reception held in a remote Kazakhstan field.
Just a handful of mission personnel and a few locals were on hand to meet American Cmdr. Mike Fossum and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa from Japan and Russian Sergei Volkov after they returned from a six month mission.
Their Russian space capsule was rolled over by hand before they were carried, fireman-style, to be plonked in a row of deckchairs where medical personnel gave them a quick once-over.
One, two, three heave: Support personnel roll the soyuz capsule over by hand
The trio then put on brave faces as they were taken to a nearby building for a press conference where they were presented with bunches of flowers and personalised Matryoshka nesting dolls.
Is anybody out there? A handful of support personnel arrive to help after the capsule touched down in a remote field in northern Kazakhstan
NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said the operation went well despite the freezing weather and strong wind.
The Soyuz capsule was blackened by the intense heat of re-entry and left lying on its side as the astronauts were extracted.
With the end of the Space Shuttle programme and budgets for space missions being slashed, the rudimentary Russian rockets are currently the only means of transport to and from the space station.
A rocket had blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 14 carrying replacement astronauts commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin.
Not quite Cape Canaveral: Cmdr. Fossum gets carried by hand after landing in a field near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan
It is Burbank's third visit to the space station, but the first for Shkaplerov and Ivanishin. A launch next month will take the station back to its normal six-person crew.
Cmdr Fossum turned over command to Burbank before climbing into the capsule for the trip back to earth.
NASA said the fact that the capsule landed on its side was not unexpected adding that Cmdr Fossum was smiling as he was carried out.
Easy lads: After living in the International Space Station for six months Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov gets carried by hand to be plonked in a deckchair
Keep smiling it will be over soon: Wearing traditional Khazakstani hats, Cmdr Fossum and fellow crew member Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa show off their personalised Matryoshka nesting dolls
Cosmonaut Sergei Volkov took centre stage at the press conference as the team are surrounded by bizarre mixture of locals and support personnel
Home from home: The team has spent almost six-months aboard the International Space Station