Space station crew returns to Earth
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 23, 2004
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft landed in central Asia Saturday, bringing the international space station's ninth crew back to Earth after a six-month stay in space.
Making a relatively rare nighttime landing, the Soyuz TMA-4 capsule, carrying Russian commander Gennady Padalka, NASA flight engineer Michael Fincke and cosmonaut Yuri Shargin touched down at 8:36 p.m. EDT, three-and-a-half hours after separation from the space station.
"We have confirmation of landing, 36 minutes after the hour," said NASA commentator Kyle Herring, monitoring the descent from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Expedition 9 home after 188 days in space, 186 aboard the international space station. Mike Fincke now officially completing his first voyage into space, Gennady Padalka completing his second."
Recovery forces had to contend with freezing temperatures and blustery winds at the landing site, but the Soyuz TMA-4 spacecraft completed its descent with no apparent problems, ending up on its side.
Fincke returns to a daughter he's never seen in person. His wife, Renita, gave birth to Tarali Paulina Fincke on June 18, two months into Expedition 9's mission. The couple also has another child and all three were in Star City near Moscow, awaiting Fincke's arrival Sunday.
"I'm very concerned she doesn't know who her father is," Fincke said of his daughter earlier this week. "She's getting really big without me, so I can't wait to come home."
Fincke and Padalka were launched to the lab complex April 18. They were replaced by Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov, who were launched Oct. 14, along with research cosmonaut Shargin, aboard the Soyuz TMA-5 spacecraft.
"We really had a spectacular mission," Fincke said earlier in the week. "Everything I really wanted to accomplish in my career I got on my first flight. We went outside four times - three extended - for EVAs or spacewalks. It was amazing, outstanding! Just a few millimeters of fabric and metal between me and the open cosmos. Our planet is beautiful.
"And the camaraderie that Gennady and I had together, that we can solve any problem, if something broke, we fixed it, that is a really good feeling to have," he said. "We know we are leaving the station in great shape for Leroy and Salizhan."
Fincke and Padalka face a battery of medical checks and physical therapy to help them re-adapt to the unfamilar tug of Earth's gravity. Fincke is not expected to get back to Houston until mid November. But earlier today, he joked about staying in space.
"Leroy, I left some toothpaste in the (Zarya module) and Gennady won't let me come back and get it," Fincke radioed after undocking.
"We'll send it back," Chiao replied. "We also found Gennady's name tag here."
A few moments later, Chaio said: "It was great serving with you and I'd fly again with you any time."
"How about tomorrow?" Fincke joked. "I'm free."