October 24, 2008

Expedition 17 Crew Back On Terra Firma

A Soyuz space capsule carrying one U.S. space tourist and two Russians safely landed on target in Kazakhstan at 0336GMT on Friday.

The Soyuz TMA-12 capsule landed about 55 miles north of Arkalyk in north-central Kazakhstan, according to Russian Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin.

"I feel great. I feel very good. Re-entry was perfectly smooth," said space tourist Richard Garriott.

Son of astronaut Owen Garriott, who spent 60 days on NASA's Skylab in 1973, Richard Garriott paid $35 million for his 12-day journey.

A NASA Television live feed from a mission control center in Moscow described it as a flawless on-target landing.

U.S. and Russian officials had been concerned about the landings after the capsule malfunctioned twice over the past year.

"I don't recall such a perfect landing as this one," said Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos. "We did everything that was possible and more, and the landing was just ideal. The crew feel fine."

Garriott said he felt fulfilled even before he rocketed away on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct 12, thanks to all the training he got with astronauts and other space professionals.

"Of course, it's been great icing on the cake to actually take the rocket ride, which was very exciting, and, of course, the view from up here is spectacular," he told reporters in a news conference.

Garriott also mentioned the joy he experienced from being able to share the experience with his father, who applauded as he watched the docking from Russian Mission Control outside Moscow.

"That's been a real joy, not just talking to him here from space, but this whole year we've actually spent working together for this flight," said the 47-year-old Garriott. "It's been a great opportunity for us to bond, so to speak, as adults in ways that we haven't had a chance to do in many years."

During the journey, Garriott met spaceman Sergei Volkov whose cosmonaut father was orbiting the earth when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The trip marked the first meeting of children of previous space adventurers in orbit.

Garriott arrived alongside Volkov and Oleg Kononenko

"This was a pinnacle experience and the ride up on Soyuz was phenomenal -- what a beautiful machine," said Garriott, as his father came over and shook his hand at the capsule.

"Of course the International Space Station is astounding and the ride home was everything you know it was advertised to be."

Richard Garriott is a 47-year-old computer games designer, and a board member and investor in Space Adventures, the firm that has brokered the ISS flights of previous millionaire tourists.

"How come you look so fresh and ready to go again?" asked Owen Garriott as father and son exchanged warm greetings. Richard replied: "Because I am fresh and ready to go again."

The head of the Russian state-controlled RKK Energiya company, which builds the Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo ships, said Friday that construction of ships for the next few missions was on schedule, but further plans could be jeopardized by a money crunch caused by the nation's financial crisis. Vitaly Lopota said the banks had been slow to provide loans to the company, and he urged the government to quickly earmark funds.


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