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|Monday, May 07, 2001, updated at 13:59(GMT+8)|
First Space Tourist Safely Returns to Earth
The descent capsule landed near the city of Arkaly in Kazakhstan at 09:41 Moscow time (0541GMT), said the Korolyov Mission Control outside Moscow.
Tito and his two Russian partners, including mission commander Talgat Musabayev and flight engineer Yuri Baturin, felt well after the landing and asked for the permission to get out of the capsule on their own, said the Itar-tass news agency.
They were inspected by medics right after the landing, and will be under observation for several days and will undergo post-flight rehabilitation.
Valery Grin, Chairman of Russian inter-state commission for manned space programs, said the crew had fulfilled their flight programs perfectly.
He said the cosmonauts' work in space deserves an excellent mark and that Tito had done a good job.
The crew blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan on April 28, and arrived at the ISS two days later. Their main task there is to replace Soyuz TM-31, now docking to the ISS as an escape craft, with the new Soyuz TM-32, as the service of the old one expires at the end of this month. The Soyuz vehicles perform the role of rescue ships, which the ISS crew could use to evacuate to the earth in case of emergency.
Tito wrote diary, made snapshots and video filming. He plans to publish collected materials in the near future. Besides, Tito was involved in some routine work to spare the professional cosmonauts more time to carry out more sophisticated tasks.
It was the first flight of a short-term visiting mission, or the so-called "space taxi" to the ISS.
Tito, a 60-year-old U.S. millionaire and former NASA engineer, has reportedly paid 20 million U.S. dollars for getting an extra seat on the Soyuz space craft.
The fare is a huge sum for Russia's cash-starved space program amounting to more than a sixth of its annual budget and enough to cover the entire cost of Tito's flight.
Russian Aviation and Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said the agency is considering sending another space tourist to the ISS, and the possible candidate may be an Italian expert working for the European space agency.
Details of the possible flight are being discussed and the cost is estimated at about 10 million dollars, he said.
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