Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson has many memories from her six months in space, but one thing stands out above all else: the incomparable view.
Caldwell Dyson and two cosmonaut colleagues returned to Earth Saturday (Sept. 25), touching down in Kazakhstan after spending 176 days aboard the International Space Station. Looking out the station's window at her home planet will stick with her always, Caldwell Dyson said.
"You get quite emotional looking out there," she said at a news conference in the Kazakh city of Karaganda on Sept. 25. "Because no picture you take, no picture you draw, can ever really capture what you're seeing and the magnitude of it."
None the worse for wear
After their Russian Soyuz capsule landed near the city of Arkalyk, Caldwell Dyson and Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko got a quick medical exam, as well as some fresh apples.
"We've all missed fresh food," Caldwell Dyson said at the news conference. "Though we've seen apples on orbit, nothing tasted as good as that apple did upon landing."
Then, the trio flew on to Karaganda, where authorities welcomed them with traditional gifts, including Kazakh garb and nesting dolls with the space flyers' faces on them. [Read about astronaut welcome ceremony traditions.]
Despite six months of weightlessness and a jarring return trip through Earth's atmosphere, Caldwell Dyson said she felt fine, if a bit tired. It may take some time to reacquaint herself with Earth's gravity, though.
"Everything looks straight, but I think I'm leaning a little bit everywhere I walk," she said. "But other than that, I'm feeling great."
Tough to let go
The trio left the space station Friday (Sept. 24), a day later than they had planned; a set of stuck hooks and latches kept the Soyuz capsule from undocking Thursday.
The glitch forced the space flyers to prepare for departure one more time, and it took on symbolic meaning to Caldwell Dyson.
"I don't think any of us were really ready to let go of the station," she said. "It's a wonderful place to be, and quite a privilege. I think it was pretty par for the course that we weren't being let go by it."
But in the end, the capsule undocked and turned toward home, leaving a skeleton crew of three aboard the space station until three more space flyers arrive Oct. 9.
Caldwell Dyson has already returned to the United States, where she's reuniting with friends and family and, perhaps, sorting through her memories especially that view.
"I asked God, help me remember this," she said. "Because I have to be able to describe this to everybody."
- For Returning Space Flyers, a Fur Chair and an Apple
- Video: Astronaut Describes Riding Home on a Soyuz, Soyuz Landing Photos
- Graphic: Inside and Out: The International Space Station