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Monday, October 22, 2007

$25 million space traveller

The Moscow Times

ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (The Moscow Times) - Malaysia's first space traveler and two cosmonauts survived a rough descent Sunday after a technical glitch sent their Soyuz spacecraft on a steeper-than-normal path during their return to Earth, officials said.

The Russian spacecraft landed safely and all three were feeling fine, officials said.

The landing capsule carrying Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Malaysia's Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, landed short of the designated landing site, Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said. The crew was unharmed, he said.

The spacecraft deviated from the intended path because of a computer glitch that sent the spacecraft on a steeper-than-usual descent trajectory, the so-called ballistic descent, Lyndin said.

"That meant that the crew were subjected to higher than normal gravity load on their descent," Lyndin said.

Russian search and rescue teams quickly located the craft, which landed about 340 kilometers west of the designated landing site, near Arkalyk in northcentral Kazakhstan, NASA reported on its web site. It said all three crew members were feeling fine.

Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov said space officials and experts "experienced a few tense moments" but added that the crew members were in good condition.

"All crew members have been recovered and they are feeling quite well," Perminov said at a news conference at Mission Control.

Alexei Krasnov, head of the Federal Space Agency's manned space programs, said an official commission would investigate the glitch.

"It's difficult to immediately name a specific reason behind the problem. We need to do an in-depth analysis," he said.

A similar problem occurred in May 2003 when the crew -- cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin and U.S. astronauts Kenneth Bowersox and Donald Pettit -- also experienced a steep, off-course landing. It then took salvage crews several hours to locate the spacecraft because of communications problems.

Yurchikhin and Kotov were returning home after a six-month stint at the international space station. Sheikh Muszaphar had been at the orbital outpost since Oct. 12.

During about 10 days in space, Sheikh Muszaphar, a 35-year-old physician fulfilling his own dream of space travel and that of his country, performed experiments involving diseases and the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and genes.

The $25 million agreement for a Malaysian astronaut to fly to space was negotiated in 2003 along with a $900 million deal for Malaysia to buy 18 Russian fighter jets.

Back aboard the station, the remaining crew -- U.S. astronauts Peggy Whitson and Clayton Anderson, and cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko -- monitored the progress of the Soyuz on its return journey. Whitson, the station's first female commander, arrived along with Sheikh Muszaphar and Malenchenko on another Soyuz that lifted off from a Russian-leased launch facility in Kazakhstan Oct. 10. She and Malenchenko are to spend six months in orbit, while Anderson -- aboard since June -- is to be replaced in the coming weeks by U.S. astronaut Daniel Tani, who is to arrive on the U.S. shuttle Discovery.


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