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Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC
Permission previously granted by Houston Chronicle 

May 5, 2003, 8:36AM

Rescuers retrieve Soyuz after 'whopper' of landing
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Two American astronauts and their Russian spacecraft commander were
plucked from remote Kazakhstan by rescuers early Sunday after their
Soyuz capsule descended nearly 300 miles short of the landing target. 

It took Russian search aircraft two hours to locate Ken Bowersox, Don
Pettit and Nikolai Budarin, who crawled from their overturned spacecraft
to fire flare guns and erect a search and rescue radio beacon. 

By late Sunday, all three men had reunited with family members,
undergone medical exams and rested. They gathered in Star City, the
Russian cosmonaut training facility not far from Moscow, where the crew
will undergo about two weeks of physical rehabilitation before Bowersox
and Pettit return to the United States. 

"This was one whopper of an experience," said NASA Administrator Sean
O'Keefe, who led the delegation of space agency officials that
participated in the recovery. "This demonstrates the depth of our
resolve. That we are going to persevere even in the case of tragedy and

O'Keefe's remarks and those of others involved in the rescue were
transmitted to the United States on Sunday. 

The suspenseful landing brought to a close a 161-day mission to the
U.S.-led international space station, a flight extended 40 days in the
aftermath of the fatal Feb. 1 shuttle Columbia accident. 

U.S. and Russian space agency officials said Sunday they would begin a
formal investigation to determine the causes of the off-target Soyuz
re-entry, which Bowersox hinted might have been caused by a software

The landing was the first for the Soyuz TMA, a slightly larger version
of a spacecraft the Russians have been launching for 36 years. The
venerable capsule was enlarged slightly to accommodate taller
astronauts. It was equipped with a newer flight control computer and
cockpit displays, as well as additional descent rockets. 

"It's still too early to know why this occurred," NASA's Bill
Gerstenmaier, the space station program manager, said Sunday. "We will
work with the Russians next week and in subsequent weeks to find out
what occurred during the entry to make them come up short." 

In the aftermath of the Columbia loss, Russia's three-person Soyuz
capsule offers the only means of transporting astronauts and cosmonauts
to and from the 240-mile-high station. NASA's three remaining shuttles
are grounded until the cause of the tragedy is identified. 

American Ed Lu and Russian Yuri Malenchenko, who began a six-month tour
of duty aboard the space station April 28, are relying on a similar
spacecraft to make their way back to Earth. 

Bowersox, Pettit and Budarin undocked from the space station on Saturday
shortly after 5 p.m. CDT. They were expected to touch down at 9:07 p.m.
CDT, southwest of Astana, the Kazakh capital, to await the almost
instantaneous arrival of U.S. and Russian flight surgeons and other
support personnel. Instead, the capsule descended more steeply than
expected, subjecting its passengers to higher acceleration forces than

An unexpected flashing light in the cockpit display and an indication
that spacecraft computers had shifted to a backup software mode were the
first signs of trouble, Bowersox said Sunday. 

"That was a big surprise for all of us," he said. "We don't think that
we did anything to cause it to happen." 

Bowersox praised Budarin, who was in command of the spacecraft, for his
calm as the three men began to experience higher-than-anticipated forces
from their steep descent. 

"Nikolai was great. He said, `This is going to be fun. The g's (high
gravity forces) are coming. We got to hold it together,' " Bowersox
recalled. "He was like a cheerleader all the way down." 

With the landing 15 minutes away, the Soyuz capsule's four parachutes
opened as expected, sending a signal to Russia's Mission Control that
the spacecraft had survived the most perilous portion of its re-entry
into the Earth's atmosphere. 

"Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing," said Bowersox, a
U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot. "For me as a test pilot, it was a
really great experience. We truly expected a nominal entry. Instead, the
ride was a little more aggressive."

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