American space tourist returns

Soon after he touched down Friday, American space tourist Richard Garriott got a pat on the head and an admiring question from his astronaut father.

“How come you look so fresh and ready to go?” 77-year-old Owen Garriott asked his son, who was sitting in an armchair in Kazakhstan after being pulled from the Soyuz capsule.

“Because I'm fresh and ready to go – again,” Richard Garriott said. “What a great ride that was.”

Garriott, a 47-year-old computer games designer who created the Ultima game series, paid $30 million for the trip to the international space station. When he lifted off Oct. 12, he became the first American to follow his father into space.

Friday's landing went perfectly – a relief to space officials. In the past two Soyuz landings, the craft went into “ballistic descent” – free fall – subjecting the occupants to high G-forces and sending one of the capsules far off target.

The smooth re-entry might ease concerns about plans to discontinue the U.S. space shuttle program in 2010. That would leave Russian Soyuz craft as the only way to ferry people to and from the station, which is scheduled to host crews of six instead of three starting next spring.

“I'm looking forward to some fresh food and to calling my loved ones,” Garriott said.

Garriott, who lives in Austin, Texas, was seen off by his girlfriend and his older brother, among others, when he lifted off for the station in another Soyuz craft. He was accompanied on the return flight by Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Volkov, who spent six months on the space station.

Volkov, helped to a chair next to Garriott and also wrapped in a blanket, looked a little wearier than the American, after 199 days in space. The son of a cosmonaut who was in orbit when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Volkov beat out Garriott as the first human to follow a parent into space.

Garriott conducted experiments while he was on the station – including some whose sponsors helped pay for a trip Garriott said cost him a large chunk of his wealth.

He also took pictures of the Earth's surface to measure environmental changes since his father snapped photos from the U.S. station Skylab 35 years ago.