Brazilian President Praises Nation's First Astronaut After Flight

Brazilian President Praises Nation's First Astronaut After Flight
Brazilian Space Agency astronaut Marcos Pontes greets personnel on hand at the Expedition 12 landing site in Kazakhstan on April 8, 2006. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.)

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - BrazilianPresident Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva welcomed the returnof Brazil's first astronaut to Earth on Sunday, praising his accomplishments inspace.

MarcosPontes landed in the freezing steppe in Kazakhstan on Sunday after a visitto the International Space Station.

"In the name of theBrazilian Air Force, the Science and Technology Ministry and the Brazilianpeople, I would like to welcome astronaut Marcos Pontes in his return home,''Silva said in a statement. "The extraordinary success of his mission ... is amotive of great satisfaction for us.''

The 43-year-old lieutenantcolonel was featured daily on Brazilian TV news broadcasts and in newspaperpages since blastinginto space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on March 29. The Brazilianflag he waved in the capsule was seen as a symbol of pride to mostBrazilians.

"His dedication and hissympathy were notable,'' Silva said. "He has become one of the greatestpersonalities of our country.''

Pontes, a Brazilian Air Forcefighter pilot, joined the 15 nations involved in the space station project in1997. A year later he was picked for the flight by NASA and the Brazilian SpaceAgency.

Pontes' trip was met with criticismby some Brazilians because it reportedly cost the Brazilian Space Agency US$10million (euro8.2 million).

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