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Soyuz capsule returns with millionaire space tourist

NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff (left), Expedition 17/18 flight engineer, and American spaceflight participant Richard Garriott pose for a photo in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

MOSCOW (BNS): The Russian Soyuz capsule carrying US millionaire and space tourist, Richard Garriott, and two Russian cosmonauts safely landed in Kazakhstan as scheduled.

The Russian mission control centre spokesman said the capsule, accompanied by a helicopter in the last moments of descend landed in Kazakhstan's steppes at 7.34 am Moscow time and the cosmonauts were doing fine.

Cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, and Garriott were extracted soon after.

The 47-year-old US citizen Garriott, who made his fortunes creating computer games, is the son of former American astronaut Owen Garriott, who spent two months aboard Skylab, the first orbiting space station of modern history, in 1973.

Space Adventures Ltd, which provides human space missions to enthusiasts, said its client Garriott returned on board the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft with Expedition 17 crewmembers, who had both spent six months aboard the ISS.

Garriott made history during his mission by becoming the first second-generation astronaut, while his co-passenger on return flight, Sergei Volkov, is the first second-generation cosmonaut.

"This mission to the ISS fulfilled a lifelong dream to experience spaceflight as my father first did 35 years ago; it's an honor to be the first American to follow a parent into space," the company quoted Garriott as saying. "This experience made possible by Space Adventures from my training in Star City, to lift-off, orbit and finally docking with and staying on the ISS has been more gratifying than anything I could have ever imagined."

Garriott said when he was in space he had "the opportunity to conduct scientific experiments and environmental research, but what was most rewarding was speaking to students. Growing up in an astronaut family, I firmly believed that every person could go to space, and now I have. I took this opportunity to inspire them with my adventure and let them know they can achieve their wildest dreams as well with hard work and perseverance."

Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures, said the "history-making mission not only made Richard the first second-generation astronaut, but also opened the space frontier to commercial opportunities, which truly demonstrates the reality of private space exploration."

On October 12 Garriott was launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He joined Expedition 18 crewmembers Mike Fincke and Yuri Lonchakov, for the flight. They arrived at the space station on October 14 and were greeted by the Expedition 17 crew.

Garriott communicated with students associated with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education via a NASA-sponsored teleconference, HAM radio downlinks and through videotaped experiments. Garriott also conducted a HAM radio downlink and two science experiments designed by primary and secondary students from the United Kingdom in partnership with the British National Space Center.

Garriott also performed a series of experiments that examined the physical impact of spaceflight on astronauts. Garriott observed the reaction of the eyes to low and high pressure in a micro gravity environment; the effects of spaceflight on the human immune system; and astronauts' sleep/wake patterns and sleep characteristics.

For conservation organization The Nature Conservancy, Garriott photographed a number of ecologically significant places on Earth. The photographs will be compared to shots taken 35 years ago by Garriott's father while in space.

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