Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Great to be back' in Texas, says space station astronaut Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly of Nasa smiles after arriving at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas (AP)
Scott Kelly of Nasa smiles after arriving at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas (AP)

US a stronaut Scott Kelly has returned to Houston after touching down on Earth following 340 days on board the International Space Station (ISS).

He told the crowd at Ellington Airport near Johnson Space Centre: "It's great to be back in Texas on US soil. I missed everyone very much."

Mr Kelly returned to Kazakhstan on Wednesday, alongside cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, before travelling on to the US.

He said it was "amazing" to feel the cold air when the hatch of his Soyuz capsule popped open after touchdown.

Both Mr Kelly, 52, and Mr Kornienko, 55, yearned for nature throughout their 340-day mission on the ISS, a dry run by Nasa for eventual trips to Mars.

It was the longest an American had lived in space, although nothing new for the Russians.

The world record is 438 days, set back in the mid-1990s on the former Mir space station. Even before that, a pair of Soviet cosmonauts had racked up a full one-year spaceflight.

"Congratulations on your record," former cosmonaut and Kazak space agency chief Talgat Musabayev said at a welcoming ceremony. He could not resist adding: "Of course, it was already done 28 years ago."

US President Barack Obama joined the chorus of praise pouring in.

"Welcome back to Earth, StationCDRKelly! Your year in space is vital to the future of American space travel. Hope gravity isn't a drag!" Mr Obama said via Twitter.

After landing, the latest one-year space subjects quickly parted company, Mr Kelly flying back to Houston and Mr Kornienko to Star City, near Moscow.

While en route, Mr Kelly tweeted a picture of his first salad back on Earth, noting it will be important to grow fresh food during Mars expeditions, like his space station lettuce crop.

Mr Kelly acknowledged it was bitter-sweet leaving the space station - his home since last March, currently staffed by three men until the arrival of three more in two weeks.

"I'd been there a long time, so I looked forward to leaving. But at the same time, it's a magnificent place and I'm going to miss it," he said.

Mr Kelly was reunited with his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, in Houston on Thursday morning.

The welcoming committee included Scott's two daughters, aged 21 and 12; his girlfriend who has been chronicling his mission as a Nasa public affairs officer at Johnson; and his sister-in-law, former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Mark's wife.

Also joining in the celebration were Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, and Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden.

"I brought you some beer and apple pie - nothing's more American than that," Mrs Biden said.

As for his space legacy, Mr Kelly said he and Mr Kornienko "were a small part" in setting the stage for Mars.

"Expanding our envelope and our ability to operate in space is something that's going to take us farther from this planet," he said.

Press Association

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