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Acrobat, Astronauts To Return To Earth

Acrobat, Astronauts To Return To Earth
Spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte is pictured in the Unity node of the International Space Station Oct. 5.
(Image: © NASA)

This story was updated at 9:22 p.m. EDT.

A space clown and two professional spaceflyers are due toreturn home to Earth Sunday from the International Space Station.

The trio closed the hatches between their Soyuz spacecraftand the orbiting laboratory at 6:06 p.m. EDT (2206 GMT) and undocked at 9:07p.m. EDT (0107 GMT Sunday), after saying farewell to their crewmates stillonboard the station.

"Goodbye station," saiddeparting Expedition 20 commander Gennady Padalka, a Russian cosmonaut.

Canadian space tourist and circusclown Guy Laliberte - the founder of Cirque du Soleil - wore his trademarkred clown nose as he hugged the station residents goodbye.

"I would like to express my gratefulness to all mycrewmates," Padalka said during a ceremony to hand over control of thestation to Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne. "Without my crewmates I wouldbe nothing as commander."

Rookie spaceflyer Mike Barratt is also making the trip home.

"For a first flight I'm probably one of the luckiestastronauts," Barratt said. "My first flight was incredible."

The spaceflyers are due to land in Kazakhstan aboard aRussian Soyuz spacecraft at 12:31 a.m. EDT (0431 GMT) Sunday.

Space clown

Laliberte is wrapping up an 11-day paid trip to space, whichhe dedicated to raising awareness for water conservation. His mission culminatedin a performance he hosted Friday night from space, in which artists in 14cities around the world used dance, song and poetry to celebrate water.

For his part, Laliberte, who paid more than $35 million tothe Russian Federal Space Agency (through the U.S. firm Space Adventures), saidthe trip was worthevery penny.

"What I've been experiencing here has been an amazingjourney," he said. "This was a moment to create awareness toward thesituation of water in the world. I don?t have 25 years, the world don?t have 25years to address the situation of water. I think this was a great opportunityto combine to a personal dream also."

Space veterans

Padalka and Barrat are completing a six-month tour of dutyon the orbiting laboratory, where Padalka served as commander of the Expedition20 mission. On Friday he handed control of the station over to European SpaceAgency astronaut FrankDe Winne of Belgium, who became the first European station commander.

"Our mission was very, very long and very productive,and I would say very eventful," Padalka said Tuesday via radio link fromthe station. "Right now we are ready to go home, and I hope that the spacestation will be left in a great position for the next commander and the nextcrew."

Barratt, a first-time spaceflyer, was an Expedition 20flight engineer. Waiting for him at home are his wife and five children.

"I have a big family and that?s the strongest magnet onthe planet," Barratt said Monday. "I need to get home to them. But atthe same time I'm going to be truly sad to leave this place. This crew up herehas become a second family."

Barratt won't have much time to rest once he gets home.While in space, he was assigned to fly on the lastscheduled space shuttle mission, the STS-133 flight of Discovery slated forSeptember 2010. He plans to begin training for that mission soon afterreturning to Earth.

"It's been a long time since I've trained on shuttle soas soon as I land, I'm going to hit the books," Barratt said.

Padalka and Barratt were part of the space station'sfirst-ever six-person crew, doubled from the previous teams of three.

"The main goal of our mission was six-personcrew," Padalka said. The expanded population helps keep the stationrunning smoothly and allows astronauts to take on more science research work.

SPACE.com is providing full coverage Laliberte's fightand the Expedition 20 landing with Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for mission updates and livemission coverage.

  • Video - Acrobat Space Tourist Trains for Launch
  • Video - Challenging Command: Belgian Astronaut Leads Crew of Six
  • SPACE.com Video Show - Inside the International Space Station

 

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