MOSCOW (AP) – An American female space tourist received roses and kisses from her husband Friday after she returned to Earth in a cramped capsule with a two-man crew from the international space station.

Anousheh Ansari, Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams were flown to Moscow for medical tests and debriefing hours after touching down on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Russian space officials said all three felt well. But the rigors of the journey and the readjustment from the weightlessness they’d experienced at the space station were evident earlier as they sat still strapped in their seats outside the capsule.

Ansari, wrapped in a fur-lined blanket to guard against the morning chill, smiled broadly and looked a bit dazed as she was presented with a large bouquet of red roses. Her husband, Hamid, surprised her, coming up from behind her chair and planting a kiss on her face.

Vinogradov and Williams sat nearby, chewing apples in slow-motion as if surprised by their weight. Rescuers then picked up all three chairs and carried them to waiting helicopters for the flight to Kustanai, Kazakhstan, where they took part in a welcome ceremony.

Ansari said at the ceremony that the most striking things about her space journey were seeing the Earth from space and the deep friendships she developed aboard the orbiting station.

“Anousheh has done a good job – she’s one of the team,” ITAR-Tass quoted Vinogradov as saying.

Ansari, an Iranian-born telecommunications entrepreneur who lives outside Dallas, was a last-minute choice for the mission, which blasted off from the Russian manned space launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Sept. 18. Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto was scheduled to be on the launch, but he was scrubbed from the trip in late August for unspecified medical reasons.

Ansari, 40, was the fourth person, and the first woman, to pay a reported $20 million for a trip to the space station. Briton Helen Sharman in 1991 took a trip to Russia’s Mir station that she won through a contest.

Ansari’s two companions on the trip to the station, Russian Mikhail Tyurin and American Michael Lopez-Alegria, were staying aboard the station for a six-month stint along with German Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, who arrived aboard the space shuttle in July.

The return to Earth, though quick, can be physically taxing; the heavy deceleration once in the Earth’s atmosphere – from about 500 mph to 180 mph – inflicts severe G-forces on space explorers who have spent the previous weeks or months weightless. As it nears the ground, the Soyuz fires its engines to slow the descent again to about 3 mph.

Ansari has become an inspiration to many Iranian women who chafe at its male-dominated rule. Scores of women went to an observatory near Tehran last week to watch the space station streak across the sky at dawn.

Russian media, too, have been fascinated by Ansari’s flight. TV broadcasts over the past week have shown images of her in the station, her two pigtails floating horizontally.

In a blog about her space experiences, Ansari suggested that life aboard the crowded space station could be a model for reducing tensions among people and nations on the planet.

“It’s sort of like on Earth, if you think about it,” she wrote. “We are all connected to each other by living on the only habitable planet in the solar system; we have no place else to go, at least not for a while, so if we don’t get along and blow up everything and create a mess of our home, well guess what? We have to live with it.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.