First female space tourist back on Earth

ANOUSHEH Ansari, the world’s first female paying space tourist, returned to Earth yesterday after 11 days in space capped by the bone-jarring journey home from the international space station.

Ms Ansari, Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and US 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 from the craft, which landed on its side.

In a blog about life in space, Ms Ansari wrote that space smells like a “burned almond cookie.” She praised the wonders of Velcro, and described the hazards of trying to wash her hair in zero gravity.

“Well my friends, I must admit keeping good hygiene in space is not easy!” she wrote in one entry.

She then described washing her hair by opening a water bag to make a huge bubble over her head, rubbing in dry shampoo and then being careful not to make sudden movements that would burst the bubble into small pieces of water floating everywhere.

Zero gravity has made it impossible to keep objects from drifting away, she wrote.

“So God invented Velcro for this very purpose. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone up here but I’ve lost a few little things already, like my lip-gloss.”

Meanwhile, the ITAR-Tass 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,” ITAR-Tass 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.”

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 kilometres (56 miles) north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 5.14am Moscow time (1.14am Irish time). The crew felt well, Mission Control said.

Ms Ansari, 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.

Ms Ansari’s husband Hamid surprised her, coming up from behind her chair and manoeuvring 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 centre at Star City outside Moscow.

They were accompanied by snails, worms and barley grown in experiments conducted aboard the orbiting station.

Ms Ansari, 40, was the fourth person, and the first woman, to pay a reported $20 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 that the price tag would rise to about $21.8m to keep up with inflation but said it will not be set too high.

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