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Second Space Tourist Returns to Earth - 2002-05-05


South African space tourist Mark Shuttleworth is back on earth after a mission to the International Space Station. Mr. Shuttleworth was the first African to go into space and the second paying passenger.

Mark Shuttleworth and two crewmates landed on schedule on the steppes of Kazakhstan, near where they blasted off 10-days ago. Mr. Shuttleworth emerged from his Soyuz landing capsule saying the trip was "fantastic". He embraced his waiting father.

Russian officials greeted the three cosmonauts with traditional cakes and painted eggs to celebrate Orthodox Easter. Mr. Shuttleworth and his Russian and Italian crewmates then underwent a series of medical tests and were pronounced in fine shape by doctors. They will undergo more tests and debriefing at the Russian space facility, known as Star City, outside Moscow.

The 28-year-old South African Internet tycoon paid the Russian space agency $20 million for the trip. But he dislikes being called a "tourist". He performed a series of experiments during his stay on the space station. The experiments included research on the HIV virus that causes AIDS, a major problem in South Africa.

Mr. Shuttleworth was the second person to pay for his ride into space; he followed American businessman Dennis Tito who went to the space station last year. Mr. Shuttleworth also purchased the Soyuz capsule and his spacesuit.

The fees paid by both men provide a substantial boost to the Russian agency, which has been in serious financial trouble since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Several other people have expressed an interest in traveling to the space station.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, opposed Mr. Tito's flight last year, saying he posed a safety risk. But after long negotiations with the Russians, NASA officials approved of Mr. Shuttleworth's flight.

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