Russian-U.S. crew, space tourist return to Earth
By Shamil Zhumatov
NEAR ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian cosmonaut, a
U.S. astronaut and an overjoyed American space tourist returned
safely to Earth on Tuesday when their Soyuz capsule bumped down
in a near-perfect landing in Kazakhstan.
Footage beamed to Moscow mission control from the Kazakh
steppe showed the recovery team opening the hatches of the
spaceship and tugging the three men in their white spacesuits
back onto firm land.
Millionaire scientist and entrepreneur Gregory Olsen waved
and gave a big thumbs up — while munching cheerfully on a
piece of fruit.
“I feel great. I can’t wait to walk around, have real food
and take a shower,” he said.
Russia’s Sergei Krikalev and U.S. astronaut John Phillips
had spent half a year in orbit on the International Space
Station. Olsen was with them in space for just over a week,
paying a reported $20 million for the trip.
Phillips looked dazed at first, his eyes barely open,
surrounded by people mopping his forehead and glasses. But he
too soon smiled and said: “I’m feeling better now.”
Krikalev during this, his sixth spaceflight, set a
cumulative record of 803 days for the most time spent off the
planet by any astronaut or cosmonaut.
“Thank you very much to those who worked with us,” he said
when he settled into the Soyuz capsule earlier in the day,
after handing command over to NASA astronaut William McArthur.
“We’re done with our tasks on the expedition.”
Space officials from Russia and the United States said they
were delighted with the smooth landing.
“As you can see the crew are healthy and cheerful. Gregory
Olsen looks best of all,” Russia’s space agency chief, Anatoly
Perminov, told reporters at mission control.
“It shows us how you need to fight for your dream. He
fought and he won,” said the head of the Russian space agency
Olsen was the world’s third space tourist, after U.S.
businessman Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African Mark
Shuttleworth in 2002.
Roskosmos also made it clear that although the U.S. shuttle
fleet is out of action, McArthur can be sure of a ride home
next year with his Russian colleague Valery Tokarev.
“There is a clear understanding how (McArthur) will come
back. He will come back on a Soyuz,” said Alexei Krasnov, head
of Roskosmos manned space flight programs, adding that they had
not yet hammered out the price of the ticket.
At the moment Russia bears the responsibility for ferrying
people and supplies to the $100-billion station after NASA
grounded its shuttle fleet in July, having failed to fix a
technical problem that killed seven astronauts in 2003.
Roskosmos meets its obligations to fly NASA astronauts this
year so the United States will need to pay cash.
The hitch is that trade sanctions linked to U.S. fears that
Russian know-how could help Iran develop nuclear weapons mean
NASA cannot pay Roskosmos, but U.S. lawmakers are working on
easing the ban.