KOROLYOV, Russia – An American billionaire who paid $25 million for a 13-day trip to outer space returned to Earth on Saturday in a space capsule that also carried a cosmonaut and an American astronaut, making a soft landing on the Kazakh steppe.
The capsule carrying Charles Simonyi, a Hungarian-born software engineer who helped develop Microsoft Word and Excel, arrived after a more than three-hour return trip from the orbital station, a spokesman said at Mission Control outside Moscow, describing the touchdown as a "soft landing."
Simonyi looked ecstatic after rescuers removed him from the capsule, which lay askew on the bleak grassland. He smiled and grinned as he spoke with the support crew.
Also on the return journey were Mikhail Tyurin and Michael Lopez-Alegria, who spent seven months on the international space station. Tyurin looked pale and tired, but soon managed a smile in a video link with Mission Control.
The capsule raced down to Earth after separating from the two other sections of the Soyuz TMA-9 craft following its departure from the station, where one of the final tasks the travelers performed was to move containers with biological experiments from refrigerators on the station into the Soyuz.
"I crossed my fingers all the way, and I am very happy now," Simonyi's brother Tomas said at Mission Control. "Yes, I was nervous, but now it's a big relief to know that he's safe and sound and that the crew is safe and sound."
Simonyi arrived at the station on April 9 — also courtesy of a Soyuz, which flew into space atop a Russian rocket launched from the Russian-leased launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan — along with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, who remained on the station.
Wiping tears from her eyes with a tissue, Lopez-Alegria's wife, Daria, said she was not nervous "until the last minute."
"He missed him much more," she said, pointing to their 7-year old son Nicholas.