Soyuz capsule returns from space with station crew
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: September 28, 2006
A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying outgoing space station commander Pavel Vinogradov, NASA flight engineer Jeff Williams and space tourist Anousheh Ansari undocked from the international lab complex and returned to Earth today, landing near Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, around 9:14 p.m. EDT.
Russian helicopter recovery crews, flight surgeons and Ansari's husband, Hamid, were stationed nearby to assist the fliers and welcome them back to Earth.
A satellite videophone with the recovery crew captured the fiery plasma trail behind the capsule as it descended through the predawn sky and later, showed the Soyuz TMA-8 descent module resting on its side, surrounded by recovery personnel. Touchdown came about 14 minutes before sunrise.
"They're all in very good shape," said NASA spokesman Rob Navias, on the scene in Kazakhstan. He said Ansari was given a bouquet of flowers and Williams called his wife on a satellite telephone.
Vinogradov and Williams were launched to the space station last March, becoming the lab's 13th full-time crew. They were joined in July by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, who was ferried to the outpost aboard the shuttle Discovery.
Vinogradov and Williams logged 182 days 22 hours and 44 minutes off the planet between launch and landing.
Ansari blasted off Sept. 18 aboard the Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft, along with Expedition 14 commander Mike Lopez-Alegria and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin will remain aboard the station until next March while Reiter, who will be replaced by astronaut Sunita Williams during a shuttle visit in December, will return to Earth aboard Discovery.
"Well friends, we have completed our work," Vinogradov radioed Russian flight controllers before entering the Soyuz TMA-8 capsule for the trip home. "We have completed packing, we have handed over the operations to the next crew. Thank you very much to everyone who has been working with us. Of course, it's a little bit sad leaving this house, this home."
With all six astronauts and cosmonauts floating in the station's Unity module, Williams said "our work here is done. We leave it in good hands with Expedition 14. Just an immense 'thank you' to all on the ground who made the last six months so successful and so rewarding. We will see you soon on the ground."
Ansari is the fourth so-called space tourist to pay some $20 million for a trip to the space station.
"These 10 days have been magnificent for me," she said today. "I've had a very unique experience because of the people here, they have made me very welcome. ... I hope to be able to have this experience once again in the near future. Thank you for all your support helping me prepare for this mission."
Tyurin joked that Ansari threatened to stow away and stay on the station. All six exchanged hugs before the departing crew floated into the Soyuz capsule to prepare the craft for re-entry. The craft undockled from the station at 5:53 p.m.
A long-time space enthusiast, Ansari's family sponsored the high-profile competition to launch the first commercial suborbital spaceflight. The Ansari X-Prize, as it was known, went to Paul Allen and Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne.
Ansari has maintained a space blog during her stay aboard the station and in a downlinked video, she said the voyage had been "wonderful for me, it's been a personal and spiritual experience that I will cherish forever."
Despite anxiety before launch and motion sickness during the two days it took to reach the lab complex, "the moment I arrived on the station, it was like going to Mecca or going to Jerusalem for those who are believers," she said.
"It was like a homecoming for me to be here and be able to have this wonderful experience of floating like a feather throughout the station, getting to know all the astronauts and cosmonauts, who are truly, truly special people, to be part of this international community and learn how they interact in these really close quarters together and how they make it work. Because it could be really difficult at times as you can imagine.
"But they work so well together and I think they can be an example to all of us on Earth to learn how we can live together and work together and help each other and be an inspiration for each other. I hope to be part of that in the future, to bring that message to more people, to be able to share my experience."