Greg Olsen gets a lift upon his return. Terminal velocity is about 25 miles per hour.
Simonyi: Ten meters per second is your terminal velocity. Basically, you’re running into a brick wall at 25 miles per hour.
Ansari: I thought it was going to be hard, but I never thought it was going to be this hard. The impact was shocking. You hit the ground so hard that the impact stops the blood flow. It felt like thousands of needles ran through my back.
Olsen:We bounced, we rolled a bit, we made some radio contact. We were instructed to wait for the search-and-rescue people. The next thing I know, I hear some banging on the capsule. They’re just letting us know, “Hey, we’re here.”
Shuttleworth: You have to wait for the capsule to cool down. We were kind of impatient, so we opened up our visors.
Ansari: It gets really hot inside the capsule while you’re coming down. You’re hot and sweaty inside your space suits, and the whole experience really makes you feel disoriented. You’re not used to gravity. You feel heavy. You can barely move.
Shuttleworth: The three of us were kind of staring out with our eyes wide open, smiling and looking at the hatch. In the impact, a whole spadeful of dirt had basically gone onto the hatch. And as they opened the hatch, we all got a face full of dirt. Sort of, “Welcome back to Earth.” It was very funny.
Olsen: They just cut all the straps with knives, pulled us out, and put us in chairs.
Garriott: Even just 10 days in space and you really do lose the ability to really even stand up properly.
Ansari: It sort of reminded me of being born again.
Olsen: It was like when you graduate from college. You have this wonderful feeling of accomplishment. I really felt good about myself in a serene, secure way, not in an egotistical or bragging way, but just, “Wow.”
Garriott: In training, you learn who has made what mistakes. And so you realize that if you make a mistake, your name will be used in association with that mistake for training for the rest of the history of the Russian space program.
Olsen: “Thank God I didn’t screw up.” That was my first thought when we landed, honestly.
Garriott: People have powered on or off things they shouldn’t. Radios have been misconfigured. The toilet has been abused.
Simonyi: So anyway, we are in Kazakhstan, and then we take the helicopter to the airport, and then we take the plane back to Star City. I didn’t take a bath that night. I just went to bed.
Olsen: First thing I did was have a shower. A shower and a shit, if you’ll excuse me. Then I went back home. Now I look up and say, “Hey, there are my buddies, just floating up there.”
Ansari: You’re out there in space looking back at Earth, and in a way, you’re also looking back at your life, yourself, your accomplishments. Thinking about everything you own, love, or care for, and everything else that happens around the world. Thinking bigger picture. Thinking in a more global fashion.
Simonyi: I don’t think the purpose of spaceflight is to make better people. Because it will somehow change you or change your life–those are not the right reasons to go to space.
Garriott: I would agree with that, in principle.
Shuttleworth: For everybody, a year of your life in some odder circumstance is going to change you. That’s kind of human nature. It’s hard to put a finger on how, exactly.
Olsen: It’s a life-changing experience in a subtle way. I mean, I’m not hugely spiritual or anything like that, but it’s so much more than the flight. You make lifetime friends.
Simonyi: For example, Sergei [Krikalyov] is an amazing guy. I mean, he is so smart and so athletic. He’s just a wonderful guy to be with, and so multifaceted. People don’t appreciate how many people have flown multiple times. The top 10 people have 60 missions among them–six apiece.
Garriott: On the American side, I began to have what I’ll call intellectual discussions about experiments and designs and things [with the astronauts]. I have some ideas for even some contemporary NASA research. In fact, they are truly doing some research based upon an idea I proposed. That really made me feel good, because I realized that even in the engineering aspects, I could play with them. Participate like I’m their equal, if you know what I mean.
Simonyi: Experienced people just do so much better in space than rookies.
In October, Simonyi exercised his $5 million option to buy a return ticket to the ISS. He is scheduled to fly this spring.
Adam Fisher writes about science and travel. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York, and Wired.