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African space tourist ends $20 million odyssey

Shuttleworth floating around the international space station
Shuttleworth floating around the international space station  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- He dodged a marriage proposal, chatted with Nelson Mandela and looked out the window a good bit. Now the world's second space tourist is back on terra firma.

After a weeklong stay at the international space station, South African Mark Shuttleworth zoomed to earth in a Soyuz capsule, landing in Kazakhstan early Sunday local time.

The capsule landed right on schedule at 7:51 a.m. Moscow time (0351 GMT) after a more than three-hour descent, a flight controller at Russian Mission Control told The Associated Press.

The three men emerged from a small shuttle Sunday morning, and were briefly examined by medical officials. They were seated in chairs, allowing them to re-adjust to gravity. Well-wishers gave the men cake and colored eggs in celebration of Russian Orthodox Easter, which is on Sunday.

The Internet magnate spent $20 million to tag along with a Russian cosmonaut and Italian astronaut as they delivered a fresh Soyuz capsule to the space station.

Russia supplies the orbiting outpost every six months with a new Soyuz, which serve as emergency lifeboats for station residents. Shuttleworth and his crewmates returned in an old Soyuz attached to the station.

CNN's Jill Dougherty reports on the safe return of the second space tourist, South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. (May 5)

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Celebrated as a sensation in his home country, Shuttleworth spoke with former South African president Nelson Mandela during one of numerous videoconferences.

During the discussion, a 14-year-old South African girl stunned Shuttleworth, one of the wealthiest bachelors on the planet, by asking if he would marry her.

The 28-year-old amateur space explorer seemed to have work and not pleasure on his mind during much of his space station stay.

He spent $20 million for trip, but considered it a working vacation, devoting much of his time to conducting AIDs and stem cell research.

Speaking in a live televised interview with CNN's Richard Quest in London, Shuttleworth said last week that the flight was worth every penny.

"It's been the most extraordinary experience," he said. "It's certainly changed my perspectives on life. I always had my head in the clouds -- it's a little strange to have my body higher than the clouds."

The remainder of the Soyuz crew consisted of Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori, another first-timer in orbit, and Russian skipper Yuri Gidzenko, who made his third space trip.

Shuttleworth made his fortune after starting an Internet security firm in his parents' garage and selling it four years later for more than $500 million.

The self-professed tech geek spent nearly eight months preparing for the flight with cosmonauts in Russia, and trained for a week at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

He followed in the weightless footsteps of U.S. investment fund manager and former NASA engineer Dennis Tito, who last year became the first paying tourist in space. Like Shuttleworth, Tito's destination was the space station.

-- CNN's Avril Stephens contributed to this report.




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