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Archive for Sunday, April 22, 2007

Billionaire returns to Earth after $25 million vacation

April 22, 2007

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— An American billionaire who won a junior cosmonaut contest as a child returned Saturday from a dream voyage to the international space station, riding a Russian capsule to a soft landing on the Kazakh steppe

The Russian Space Agency search-and-rescue team officers carry U.S. Space tourist Charles Simonyi  shortly after his landing Saturday in Russian Souyz TMA-9 space capsule about 500 km (310 miles) southwest of the Kazakh town of Karaganda. A Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut returned to Earth along with a U.S. billionaire whose paid voyage to the international space station ended with a landing on the Kazakh steppe.

The Russian Space Agency search-and-rescue team officers carry U.S. Space tourist Charles Simonyi shortly after his landing Saturday in Russian Souyz TMA-9 space capsule about 500 km (310 miles) southwest of the Kazakh town of Karaganda. A Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut returned to Earth along with a U.S. billionaire whose paid voyage to the international space station ended with a landing on the Kazakh steppe.

Charles Simonyi, a 58-year-old native of Hungary who helped design Microsoft Word and Excel, smiled and chatted with rescuers who helped him gingerly out of the Soyuz capsule and appeared energized by his $25 million, two-week trip.

The capsule carrying the space tourist, a Russian cosmonaut and a U.S. astronaut touched down after a more than three-hour return trip from the orbital station.

Simonyi looked delighted after rescuers helped him from the rounded capsule, which lay askew on the bleak grassland, and into a chair covered with fur for warmth. He smiled, grinned broadly and spoke animatedly with members of a support crew who greeted him with hugs and handshakes.

He then bit enthusiastically into a green apple - a traditional offering for space crews touching down in Kazakhstan, which is famous for the tasty fruit.

Asked about his first impressions back on Earth, a smiling Simonyi said in Russian, "The sun is shining, the weather is good," in footage broadcast on state television. Simonyi had studied Russian in school in his native Hungary and took another language course in preparation for the flight.

Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin looked pale and tired, but soon managed a smile in a video link with Mission Control. "The first thing I felt on Earth was the smell," he told the television network.

Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, the last out of the capsule, sighed with relief, smiled and talked to the support crew as doctors monitored the men's vital signs.

The astronaut set the U.S. record for continuous space flight by spending 215 days in orbit, and set another U.S. record - 10 space walks over his career.

The capsule raced down to Earth after separating from the two other sections of the Soyuz TMA-9 craft following its departure from the station, where one of the final tasks the travelers performed was to move containers with biological experiments from refrigerators on the station into the Soyuz.

Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov said all the cosmonauts "feel wonderful."

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