NEAR ARKALYK, Kazakhstan, (Reuters) – A Russian capsule landed in the Kazakh steppe on Friday, returning to earth Anousheh Ansari who is the first female tourist, the first female Muslim and the first Iranian-born person to enter space.
“They’ve completed the landing,” a mission control official in Moscow said after the small Soyuz TMA-8 capsule, charred black from its fiery re-entry into the atmosphere, landed safely in northern Kazakhstan.
Ansari, a 40-year-old U.S. telecoms entrepreneur who left Iran in 1984 and who paid $20 million for the trip, came back along with a Russian cosmonaut and a U.S. astronaut and was greeted with red roses as well as a hug from her husband, Hamid.
A Russian space programme recovery team had surrounded the capsule, opened the hatch and extracted the cosmonauts.
“They brought me home safe and sound,” Ansari, looking tired but happy said as she sat in a special reclining chair next to the capsule in bright early morning sunshine. “I had a great experience.”
The capsule, returning from the International Space Station (ISS), was also carrying Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams.
“It was the ride of a lifetime,” Williams, eating an apple, said as he adapted to gravity after his six months in space.
The craft slowed its descent with a large orange and white parachute and fired rockets to make a soft landing on its side in a puff of dust and dirt in a field about 80 km (50 miles) north of the small town of Arkalyk.
Ansari waved and smiled broadly after being presented with the bunch of red roses with a pink ribbon by the recovery team.
Asked how she felt, she gave a thumbs up and said “khorosho” – “good” in Russian.
The space travellers were taken away for medical checks in a bright orange inflatable tent. The three were due to fly by helicopter to the town of Kostanai where they will board a plane for the trip back to Russia.
There have been three other space tourists, each paying the Russian space programme about $20 million for the trip.
Ansari blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome — hundreds of kilometres (miles) to the south — in Kazakhstan on Sept. 18 along with a fresh U.S-Russian crew that relieved Vinogradov and Williams on the space station.
“This 10 days has been magnificent for me,” she said during a farewell ceremony aboard the station, about 3-1/2 hours before the landing at 0114 GMT. “I hope to be able to have this experience once again in the near future.”
Alexei Krasnov, head of manned space flight programmes for Russian space agency Roskosmos told reporters in Moscow: “We are very glad after seeing today’s successful landing.”
NASA’s ISS space program manager added: “The crew did a great job, this was a very important expedition for us.”
Remaining on the space station are Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who flew to the outpost with Ansari, and German astronaut Thomas Reiter.
Tyurin and Lopez-Alegria will be on the ISS for six months. Reiter, who arrived on a U.S. space shuttle in July, is set to return home in December.