U.S. space tourist, Russians return to Earth

Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:32am EDT
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By Shavkat Rakhmatullayev

NEAR ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - A Soyuz capsule carrying a U.S. space tourist and two Russians bumped down safely in Kazakhstan on Friday, ending a string of mishaps on previous landings that have raised concerns about its safety.

"I feel great. I feel very good. Re-entry was perfectly smooth," a smiling Richard Garriott, who paid $35 million for his 12-day journey into space, told Reuters after a Russian recovery team extracted him from the capsule.

Charred black from its fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, the craft slowed its descent with a large parachute and fired special gunpowder engines to cushion its landing.

It came to rest in a puff of dust in a field 80 km (50 miles) north of the town of Arkalyk at 0336 GMT as planned.

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

Its success was a relief for Russian and U.S. officials who have been worried about the landings after the capsule malfunctioned twice over the past year, subjecting crews to dangerous "ballistic" re-entries.

A ballistic landing is steeper than a normal one and subjects crews to massive gravitational forces. A South Korean astronaut said she feared death during such a landing in April.

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

<p>Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov rests after his Soyuz space capsule landed not far from the the Kazakh town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan October 24, 2008. REUTERS/Dmitry Kostyukov/Pool</p>