Arkalyk, 29 Sept. (By AP and other reports) Anousheh Ansari, the world's first female paying space tourist, returned to Earth on Friday after an 11-day sojourn in space capped by the bone-jarring journey from the international space station.
The Iranian-American Ansari, Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams had left the station aboard a cramped Russian Soyuz capsule a little over three hours before landing as dawn broke over the steppes of Kazakhstan. After the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere, search and rescue teams in three planes and 12 helicopters tracked the trajectory and scrambled to help pull the crew out of the craft, which landed on its side.
Officials monitoring the landing from Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow applauded after confirming that the capsule had landed in the target zone around 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 5:14 a.m. Moscow time (0114 GMT). The crew felt well, Mission Control said.
They brought me home safe and sound", Ansari, looking tired but happy said.
Ansari, wrapped in a fur-lined blanket to guard against the early morning chill, smiled as she sat in a chair surrounded by high grass after exiting the Soyuz. An unidentified official presented her with a large bouquet of red roses. Vinogradov, munching a red apple, and Williams sat in chairs nearby. Temperatures hovered around minus 3 Celsius.
"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", she added.
Ansari's husband Hamid surprised her, coming up from behind her chair and maneuvering around her space helmet to plant a kiss on her mouth. Rescuers then picked up all three chairs and carried them to waiting helicopters for the flight to Kustanai, Kazakhstan, where they were to board a plane for the trip to the Russian cosmonauts' training center at Star City outside Moscow.
They were accompanied by snails, worms and barley grown in experiments conducted aboard the orbiting station.
“Anousheh has done a good job _ she's one of the team”, Vinogradov said.
The space travelers were to undergo a quick medical evaluation through monitors attached to their bodies as soon as they exited the capsule. The information, transmitted to a nearby medical tent, is then sent to the U.S. space agency in Houston for analysis.
Ansari, an Iran-born American telecommunications entrepreneur, was a last-minute choice for the mission, which blasted off from the Russian manned space launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Sept. 18. Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto was scheduled to be on the launch, but he was scrubbed from the trip in late August for unspecified medical reasons.
Ansari, 40, was the fourth person, and the first woman, to pay a reported US$20 million (euro16 million) for a trip to the international space station. Briton Helen Sharman in 1991 took a trip to Russia's Mir station that she won through a contest.
Alexei Krasnov, deputy head of Russian Federal Space Agency, said Friday that the price tag would rise to about US$21.8 million (euro17.2 million) to keep up with inflation but officials be careful not to set it too high.
“If we raise the price for a flight too high, we could pass the threshold when we lose a tourist market with good prospect”, he said.
In her native Iran, Ansari has become an inspiration to many women who chafe at the country's male-dominated rule.
Ansari's two companions on the trip to the station, Russian Mikhail Tyurin and American Michael Lopez-Alegria, were staying aboard the station for a six-month stint along with German Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, who arrived aboard the U.S. space shuttle in July.
The return to Earth can be physically taxing; the heavy deceleration once in the Earth's atmosphere _ from about 825 kilometers per hour (500 mph) to 290 kph (180 mph) _ inflicts severe G-forces on space explorers who have spent the previous weeks or months weightless. As it nears the ground, the Soyuz fires its engines to slow the descent again to about 5 kph (3 mph).
In her native Iran, Ansari has become an inspiration to many women who chafe at the country's male-dominated rule. Scores of women went to an observatory near Tehran last week to watch the space station streak across the sky at dawn.
“Welcome home Anousheh. We all proud of you”, said Nasrin, an Iranian woman in an e-mail sent on 29 September. “Dear Anousheh, Welcome back to earth. We are eager to meet you here, said another. Hi you made me to pride that i am Iranian thank u so much, wrote a certain Shayan, one of the hundreds others from other Iranians, including many men from inside Iran.
Iranian media, though largely government and state-controlled, praised Mrs. Ansari’s fabulous performance, despite the official religion that consider women a second class human being.
Russian media, too, have been fascinated by Ansari's flight, and over the past week TV has broadcast plenty of footage of her in the station - her two pigtails floating horizontally and making her look like Pippi Longstocking.
As the capsule returned to Earth on Friday, a news agency reported that a Russian firm had recently begun producing custom-made underwear embroidered with the emblem of the mission.
“And a surprise has been prepared on Earth for the charming female tourist Ansari: a set of underwear with original embroidery”, a news agency reported. “On the chest of the camisole is an embroidered figure of a woman made out of the logotype of the firm headed by the American businesswoman”.
With the flags of the United States and Iran emblazoned on her flight suit, she launched on a Soyuz rocket on 18 September. During her eight-day stay, she conducted experiments for the European Space Agency into effects of anaemia and backache in zero gravity, while also delighting in the thrills of weightlessness and other sensations.
“I keep going to different corners of the station and try to hold on tight, in my memory, to what I’m seeing and feeling”, Ansari wrote in an internet diary before leaving the ISS. Several times I just let myself float freely and tumble around like a feather caught in a breeze to see where I would end up”.
Having emigrated to the United States at the age of 16, the digital telecommunications expert says she hopes her life and space voyage will inspire young people worldwide, especially women and girls. ‘Maybe this was all meant to be this way,’ she added. ‘My sudden trip to Moscow and the last minute change in crew....Maybe I was supposed to remind all of us of our infinite possibilities.’
The journey is the culmination of a lifetime of interest in space for Ansari, whose trip to the ISS follows paying visits by three other Americans and a South African in the past five years. After selling her internet company Telecom Technolgies in 2001 for 750 million dollars, her family set up the Ansari X Prize, a 10-million-dollar award for the first private organization to launch a reusable manned craft into space twice in two weeks. This feat was accomplished by designer Burt Rutan in 2004.
“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish”, said Anousheh Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc. ANSARI 30906