US space tourist, station crew heading home
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – A Russian-U.S. two-man
crew who spent the last six months aboard the International
Space Station and the world’s third space tourist headed back
to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule on Monday.
Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and U.S. astronaut John
Phillips, the only station crew to host space shuttle
astronauts since the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, and space
tourist Gregory Olsen undocked from the space station around
5:49 p.m. EDT (2149 GMT) for a return flight.
Touchdown was set for 9:09 p.m. EDT (0149 GMT on Tuesday)
“Thank you very much to those who worked with us,” said
Krikalev, who turned over command of the station to his
replacement, NASA astronaut William McArthur.
“We’re done with our tasks on the expedition,” Krikalev
said, as he, Phillips and Olsen settled into the Soyuz capsule
that carried them back to Earth.
McArthur and cosmonaut Valery Tokarev arrived at the
outpost 10 days ago, along with Olsen, a New Jersey
entrepreneur who spent $20 million on his space vacation.
“I just love it up here,” Olsen told a group of high school
students during an in-flight interview. “It’s fulfilling
everything I expected.”
Krikalev — who during his sixth spaceflight set a
cumulative record of 803 days for the most time spent off the
planet by any astronaut or cosmonaut — and Phillips have been
aboard the outpost since April.
“We worked six months trying to get the space station in
better shape,” Krikalev told the new crew during a
change-of-command ceremony over the weekend. “We had a very
interesting mission and I hope your mission is interesting as
McArthur took over command not knowing when his replacement
will arrive. NASA had hoped to be flying its space shuttle
fleet to the station for servicing and crew transport, but new
problems surfaced during the shuttle’s sole flight since the
2003 Columbia disaster.
The accident, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts,
was triggered by damage from a piece of foam insulation that
fell off the ship’s fuel tank during launch. The same problem
occurred during Discovery’s launch on July 26, although the
debris did not hit the shuttle.
NASA hopes to resume shuttle flights in May.
U.S. businessman Dennis Tito became the world’s first space
tourist in 2001, followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth in
2002. Each trip reportedly came with a $20 million price tag.