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Olsen: [My doctor] asked me all the questions: “We got your heartbeat, any problems?” Blah, blah, blah. Third day, fourth day came: “You go yet, Greg?” “No.” The fifth day: “No.” He said, “Don’t worry. World record is 14 days. You’ll never beat it.” It took me six days to go.

Garriott: A lot of people get constipated up there. But even if you don’t, you are still going with very, very, low frequency. In my 12 days in space, I had to use the rest room three times.

Olsen: I remember we had this long conversation about what we were going to do when we got back. I was more enthralled with “Hey, I’m in space.” But [Commander] Krikalyov and John Phillips [the NASA science officer] had been in space for six months now. They’re getting really anxious. I remember Phillips said, “I just want beer and pizza. That would be it for me.” Krikalyov joined in and said, “I just want to have a coffee, but not this crap we have here. I want the kind of coffee that I could hold to my nose and smell.”

Simonyi: The returning crews are anxious to return. We were delayed by two days. They were up there for more than six months. I was celebrating: two extra days! And these guys were all, “Oh my God, I was supposed to be back. I was dreaming about this day, and now I have to wait two more days!”

Garriott: [My movie] begins with my actual departure from the space station with people waving. “Bye-bye, Richard, bye-bye.” Then it goes to “Wow, man, I’m sure glad we got rid of that guy–all he would ever talk about is video games. Ultima this, Tabula Rasa that. Whew, glad he’s gone.” And after a bit of humorous life on board, they determine that there’s too much oxygen being used for the number of crew that are currently on the station. So they believe an alien is on board, and they go searching for it, and instead they find my mother.

The flight back to Earth takes three and a half hours from undocking to landing, and on the way down, the Soyuz sheds two of its three sections. Both the service module, with its solar panels and communication equipment, and the habitation module (or “living room”) burn up in the atmosphere. The heat-shielded reëntry module, containing the cosmonauts, deploys a succession of parachutes and retro-rockets to slow the spacecraft before impact.

Garriott: Packing up is a sad time. When you say your good-byes, they try to do that live on camera, and then they rush you off and undock quickly, for safety reasons. So it’s really kind of a rushed and harried good-bye, which is really quite tearful.

Shuttleworth: I thought the flight down was the best bit of the whole thing. Just from the physics perspective, it’s very dynamic. The launch is kind of sterile: you’re 15 meters away from the engines, which is where all the action is. On the return, by contrast, the vehicle blows itself up and separates into all these pieces. And then this tiny little piece that has you in it comes straight back into the atmosphere with fireworks going off all around it. So you’re in the thick of it.

Olsen: Remember that to land, the Soyuz is only one-third the size of what it is when it’s launched, and most of the cargo space is missing. It has to be packed very carefully, because the mass distribution affects some of the aerodynamic characteristics of the Soyuz. It has to be done by the commander. This is the sort of thing we really want to help out on, but all you can do is stand by and watch, because it is a one-man thing, and it has to be done very carefully.

Simonyi: The living room is packed up with garbage so it will be burned up on return. The garbage bags are these rubberized bags that are closed with rubber rings just like the space suit–pretty much hermetically sealed.

Olsen: We put our space suits on, got in, and couldn’t quite adjust the pressures between the habitat module, which is docked, and the docking compartment. For an hour we kept adjusting, and they finally said, “All right, let’s go with it.”

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Credits: REUTERS/Sergei Remezov, Maxim Marmur/AFG/Getty Images, Epsilon/Getty Images, REUTERS/NASA TV, REUTERS/Mikhail Grachyev, REUTERS/NASA/Bill Ingalls
Video by JR Rost

Tagged: Communications, space, spacecraft, spaceflight, outer space

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