US Astronaut Says it Was Great Honour for Him to Take Part in Testing New Russian Spacecraft

American astronaut Kenneth Bowersox has said it was a great honour for him to participate in the trials of a new Russian space vehicle, Soyuz TMA-1.

The commander of the sixth long-duration expedition to the International Space Station /ISS/ was speaking at a news conference in Star City upon the expedition's return to Earth on May 4th.

Bowersox pointed to the high skill of Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin. "He warned us against things we might encounter when some irregularities developed in the descent programme, and we were prepared for any surprises," Bowersox said.

According to him, upon landing, which occurred in an unscheduled place, 460 kilometres from the target area, "Budarin by his own efforts opened the hatch of the capsule in which we descended, crawled out of it, pulled us out, too, and we spent the next hour and a half lying on the ground /we could not walk/, while Budarin tried to contact a search party and arrange radio communications." Replying to a question by RIA Novosti why there was a two-hour delay before the crew reported their landing and why they did not use their personal means of communication, the commander of the Soyuz TMA-1, Budarin, answered that the force of landing tore some lines of the parachute into which the ship's radiotransmitter aerial was woven, and contact was broken.

Later, Budarin said, the cosmonauts sought to use the US radio provided in the ship's capsule, but its power proved to be too small.

The third member of the crew, US astronaut Donald Pettit, replying to journalists' questions about how the astronauts met their relatives, noted that the American families during the landing were at Russian mission control and, of course, were worried when for more than two hours there was no word of their safe landing. "Their conduct was worthy, although all of them remembered the recent crash of the American Columbia shuttle," Pettit said.

After noting that a commission was set up to look into the non-standard landing of the Soyuz TMA-1, the crew gave high marks to the ship.

"It is too soon to speak now about the cause behind the malfunctioning in the descent programme a minute before the automatic descent mode was to have switched on, that will be ascertained by the commission," Budarin emphasised. "The main thing is that we are all safe and sound and back on Earth." Expedition Six to the ISS space expedition completed a 163-day flight, organised six walks in free space, and conducted about 20 scientific and technical experiments on board the station.

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