Space Center, Houston His five-month mission almost over, the space station's skipper said Tuesday he will miss living in orbit, but can't wait to be reunited with his family and with colleagues who are still suffering from the Columbia disaster.
"I feel a little bit like I'm being kicked out of my apartment for not paying my rent," said U.S. astronaut Kenneth Bowersox, surrounded by his two roommates and the two-man replacement crew that arrived Monday. "But when I get back to Earth, the best part is going to be, to be able to hug my wife and hug my kids."
Bowersox and his crew, American Donald Pettit and Russian Nikolai Budarin, will return to Earth this weekend aboard the Soyuz capsule that has been docked to the station for the past six months. They were scheduled to come back aboard space shuttle Atlantis in March, but the fleet has been grounded since Columbia broke apart during descent on Feb. 1.
Instead of Florida, they will land in Kazakhstan.
"I'm actually sort of excited about it," said Bowersox, 46, a Navy captain. "I went through a lot of training there in Star City (Russia) and I always thought, 'Aw, I'm doing this training and I'm never going to get to use it in the Soyuz.' And now we're going to ... so I think it's going to be a very, very interesting life experience."
Bowersox and Pettit, 48, will be the first NASA astronauts to land in a Russian spacecraft; their touchdown is scheduled for Saturday night Houston time. The only other American to do so was California millionaire Dennis Tito, the world's first paying space tourist, two years ago.
Unlike the shuttle, which lands like an airplane, the Soyuz capsule essentially plummets to earth, with parachutes and booster rockets to slow its descent.
U.S. astronaut Edward Lu, who just moved in with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, said a smaller two-man crew ought to do "just fine." Because of the absence of shuttles and their large shipments, the two will have to conserve on some things, Lu said, "but I don't think it will be that bad."
Lu and Malenchenko will spend the next six months there and return to Kazakhstan this fall aboard the Soyuz capsule they came up on.