Brazilian Marcos Pontes, Russian Valery Tokarev and Bill McArthur of the US touched down on target and on schedule at 3.47am Moscow time on Sunday (2347 GMT Saturday).

 

Officials at Russia's mission control in Korolyov, outside Moscow, reported that the capsule had been in radio contact for much of the three and a half hour journey and that all three crew members were feeling well.

 

The TMA-7 capsule landed on its side about 50km northeast of Arkalyk after what mission control officials called a flawless flight.

 

McArthur and Tokarev had spent more than six months on the space station.

 

They were replaced by Pavel Vinogradov, a Russian commander, and Jeff Williams, a US flight engineer, who arrived at the station together with Pontes on April 1.

 

Pontes had travelled to the station for a weeklong stint.

 

Flag and jersey

 

He had carried a Brazilian flag and national football jersey on his trip to the international space station, hoping it would bring his national team victory in this summer's World Cup.

 

Pontes, a Brazilian Air Force lieutenant-colonel, trained in the US and had been scheduled to fly to the station on board a US space shuttle - plans that were scrapped after the February 2003 Columbia explosion.

 

Brazil and Russia then opened talks on Pontes' travelling into orbit aboard a Soyuz craft.

 

Brazilian media said Pontes' trip cost $10 million.

 

Along with the crew, the capsule brought back to Earth snails, worms and peas grown in space as part of experiments, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

 

Ground crews reached the capsule less than 10 minutes after the landing to open up the hatch.

 

Pontes was wearing a wide grin and giving a thumbs-up sign as his bulky spacesuit was removed after the 400km trip from the space station.