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11 Oct, 2009 12:16

Expedition 20 returns to Earth

The members of the 20th ISS mission and the space tourist Guy Laliberte have successfully landed in Kazakhstan before traveling to the Star City in the Moscow region.

The Soyuz space capsule touched down bang on target, and within three minutes rescuers arrived to welcome the crew home. Their job is to help the space travelers out of the shuttle.

The time in orbit means their bodies have to get used to the pressures of the terrestrial atmosphere again, not to mention Earth's smells and tastes.

Expedition 20 Commander, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, along with an American astronaut, Flight Engineer Michael Barratt, left after their 198-day stay aboard the ISS.

Besides the two professionals, the capsule brings back home a tourist with a difference. Canadian spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte – a billionaire and founder of the renowned Cirque du Soleil – arrived at the station with the 21st Mission on October 2.

Guy Laliberte, dubbed “the first clown in space,” has made a red nose a trademark part of his space uniform.

But the 12-day voyage was not just a holiday for Laliberte. The Canadian billionaire used the opportunity to draw people's attention to the growing shortage of drinking water in the world.

The former fire-eater and street performer hosted a global show from the ISS with a galaxy of stars taking part.

Millions of people were able to tune in to the two-hour performance, so his environmental message to all earthlings certainly got out there.

“All for water, water for all. Peace!” he addressed the Earth inhabitants from the orbit.

The landing occurred north of the city of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan, where everything was waiting to welcome the crew. Fifteen Russian helicopters and planes and six search vehicles were on duty to recover the space capsule. All in all, 200 people – civilian and military specialists – took part in the operation.

From the landing site, the three men were transported to the Gagarin training center outside Moscow, also known as Star City.

This trip has taken five hours – longer than the journey from the ISS itself – and it will take even longer for the crew members to get used to being back on earth.

Before leaving the ISS, Padalka, Laliberte and Baratt had a farewell dinner with their colleagues, who will remain in orbit. The only woman in the crew, Mission Specialist Nicole Stott, will return to Earth aboard a space shuttle in November. Three of the men – Roman Romanenko, Frank De Winne and Robert Thirsk, will return to Earth on December 1 aboard the Soyuz.

Prior to the arrival of the next three crewmembers in late December, only Russia’s Maxim Surayav and American Jeffrey Williams will stay aboard the ISS.