The Canadian astronaut who became a music sensation when his zero-gravity version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" went viral on the web returned to Earth along with two crewmates on Tuesday after a five-month stint on the International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield landed safely in central Kazakhstan with his American and Russian colleagues. Their Soyuz space capsule descended under an orange parachute and raised clouds of dust as it ignited an engine to cushion its landing about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan.
"The crew are feeling well," Mission Control outside Moscow said in a radio transmission, as several search and rescue helicopters hovered around the capsule on a bright morning. The three astronauts were shown smiling, seated in semi-reclined chairs and covered with blue thermal blankets, waiting for medical tests after their landing.
Space station commander Hadfield, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko had left the $100-billion orbital outpost about 3-1/2 hours earlier as it sailed 255 miles (410 km) over eastern Mongolia. "It's just been an extremely fulfilling and amazing experience," Hadfield radioed to flight controllers on Monday.
Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the space station, made more history on Monday when he released the first music video shot in space - his poignant "cyberspace" rendition of Space Oddity, which was first released in 1969 just before the Apollo 11 moon landing. The video, with its familiar refrain "Ground Control to Major Tom" had more than 5 million hits on YouTube on Tuesday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo The space mission included an impromptu spacewalk on Saturday to fix an ammonia coolant leak that had cropped up two days earlier. Without the repair, NASA likely would have had to cut back the station's science experiments to save power.
The cooling system dissipates heat from electronics on the station's solar-powered wing panels. During the 5-1/2-hour spacewalk, Marshburn and Chris Cassidy, who remains aboard the station, replaced a suspect ammonia coolant pump, apparently resolving the leak. Engineers will monitor the system for several weeks to make sure there are no additional problems.
The mission of Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko, who blasted off 146 days ago, was the 35th expedition aboard the space station, a permanently staffed laboratory for biomedical, materials science, technology demonstrations and other research. Their replacements are due to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 28.
Until then, a skeleton crew commanded by Pavel Vinogradov and including NASA astronaut Cassidy and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will keep the station operating. The crew's return to Earth comes on the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first U.S. space station, Skylab.
Three crews lived and worked on the relatively short-lived Skylab between May 1973 and February 1974. The project helped NASA prepare for in-flight research aboard the space shuttles and the International Space Station, which was constructed in orbit beginning in 1998. The outpost, which is scheduled to remain in orbit until at least 2020, has been permanently staffed since November 2000.