This story was updated at 4:57 p.m. EDT.
Billionairespace tourist Charles Simonyi is saying farewell to the International SpaceStation as he prepares to return to Earth Wednesday to complete his secondmultimillion-dollar spaceflight.
Simonyi,the world?s first repeat space tourist, is due to land tomorrow at 3:16 a.m.EDT (0716 GMT) when his Russian-builtSoyuz spacecraft lands on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan, where itwill be afternoon when the capsules touches down. The space station?s outgoingcrew — Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke of NASA and Russian flightengineer Yury Lonchakov — will also return to Earth with Simonyi as they wrapup a six-month mission to the orbiting lab.
?Here?s toa really good flight, and I?m hoping for a soft landing,? Simonyi said in anaudio message posted to his mission Web site, where he has been chronicling hisflight.
Simonyi, anAmerican computer software developer, is paying about $35 million for a 13-dayspaceflight under an agreement between Russia?s Federal Space Agency and theVirginia-based firm SpaceAdventures. It is his second spaceflight and follows a 14-day flight in2007, for which he paid about $20 million in a similar deal.
A native ofHungary, Simonyi launched to the station with two members of the outpost?s new Expedition19 crew on March 26 and arrived two days later. His flight was initially slatedto last 12 days, but was extended by the Russian mission controllers in orderto change landing zones when bad weather flooded the initial target.
Simonyisaid he enjoyed theextra day in space, but was eager to return to Earth to his family and wifeLisa Persdotter, whom he married last year.
?I am veryhappy about the extra day, but it will be good to be back with my family forEaster,? Simonyi wrote on his Web site. ?The return trip will be only two hoursfrom the closing of the hatch to touchdown.?
UnlikeSimonyi, who is completing a nearly two-week flight, Fincke and Lonchakov arereturning to Earth after spending half a year living and working aboard thespace station.
The astronautand cosmonaut performed two spacewalks and hosted two visiting NASA spaceshuttles during their mission. They worked to prime the space station to doubleits current three-person crew size later this year by installing, thenrepairing, vital life support equipment such as a urine recycler, secondkitchen and second bathroom, as well as extra gym equipment. The station isexpected to begin permanent six-person operations in late May.
?It?sbittersweet,? Fincke said. ?I can?t wait to see my beautiful wife and kidsagain, but I love the space station.?
Fincketurned control of the space station over to Expedition19 commander Gennady Padalka of Russia — who launched with Simonyi and NASA astroanut Michael Barratt — lastweek during an 11-day crew change.
Fincke,Lonchakov and Simonyi are expected to hold a brief farewell ceremony withPadalka and his two crewmates tonight at about 8:45 p.m. EDT (0045 April 8GMT). They are then scheduled to undock their Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft from thestation at 11:52 p.m. EDT (0352 GMT) tonight, and then fire their spacecraft?sengines at 2:24 a.m. EDT (0624 GMT) Wednesday in a braking maneuver to beginthe descent back to Earth.
?It makesit even a little bit tougher because we have such a great crew, all six of ushere at one time,? Fincke said. ?It?s going to be really tough to shut thehatch and leave.?
Spacetourist Charles Simonyi is chronicling his second spaceflight on his Web site: www.charlesinspace.com.
SPACE.comwill provide full coverage of Simonyi's second space tourist flight and theExpedition 18 crew's landing with senior editor TariqMalik in New York. Click here formission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed. Live undocking andlanding coverage begins at 11:30 p.m. EDT (0330 GMT).
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