The world's first space tourist landed safely back on Earth early Sunday, then emerged shakily from the Russian Soyuz space capsule to announce, "I just came back from paradise."
Dennis Tito, the American who reportedly paid $20 million US for the thrill of a trip to the International Space Station, returned with his celestial travelling companions Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin.
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The Soyuz capsule landed on the Kazakh steppe, then a stiff wind caught the parachute and dragged the capsule about 15 metres.
"It was great, best, best, best of all," an ecstatic Tito declared. "It was paradise. I just came back from paradise. Great flight!"
Tito and his companions spent eight days in space, blasting off on April 28 to head for the space station. Though an American citizen, Tito's excellent adventure didn't thrill many U.S. space authorities.
Former U.S. senator and astronaut John Glenn called Tito's participation in the space flight "a misuse of the spacecraft, and it was supposed to be for research."
A helicopter delivered Tito and the two Russian cosmonauts to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev greeted the flyers as returning heroes including Tito.
"I offer an especially warm welcome to Mr. Tito" Nazarbayev said. "Until recently you could only read in science fiction that an ordinary man would go to space. You have paved the way for space tourism."