STAR CITY, Russia — He left his camera behind, and the accommodations were smaller than expected, but Gregory Olsen said Thursday that his excursion was still worth every bit of the $20 million he reportedly paid — after all, it was in outer space.
"It was everything I had expected," Olsen, the New Jersey scientist and businessman, told The Associated Press two days after returning to Earth from the international space station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. Olsen is the third private citizen to make a paid trip into space.
"It was kind of like this wondrous thing. I mean, we have seen thousands of pictures of the earth and so forth, but just to see it with your own eyes and then say, 'It really is round, and how finite it is' ...," he said. "You see this little crust of atmosphere against the dark sky and you realize we don't have that much to breathe."
Olsen also found the zero-gravity conditions to be a treat.
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"I enjoyed the feeling weightlessness, just floating around and seeing the outside world," he said. But the enjoyment may have distracted him from keeping track of his personal belongings — he admitted that a small digital camera floated out of his jumpsuit pocket and went missing.
More than a tourist
That may sound like typical tourist carelessness, but Olsen dislikes the "space tourist" tag often hung on him and the other two citizen space visitors — American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth.
"I dedicated two years of my life to this," he said. "It's not just a hop-on-and-go kind of thing."
During his training, a medical problem cropped up that forced his trip to be postponed, but to his relief he later got the go-ahead. "The biggest thing I was nervous about was not being able to go. You know, it's a fear we all have: 'Here's the test, I'd bettter not fail it.'"
He also said the station was more crowded than he'd expected, but that the food was more than satisfactory. "It's not gourmet food, it can't be. But the shrimp cocktail — I've had worse in restaurants on the ground," he said.
Olsen returned with Russian Sergei Krikalev and American John Phillips, who had been aboard the station six months. They were replaced on the space station by NASA's William McArthur and Russia's Valery Tokarev, who were with Olsen when he blasted off for the station on Oct. 1.
After being pulled out of the capsule when it landed in Kazakhstan, Phillips had appeared to be slipping in and out of consciousness. At a news conference at Star City, the Russian cosmonaut training facility north of Moscow, Phillips said the landing was not as comfortable as on U.S. space shuttles; he went to the space station in 2001 aboard the shuttle Endeavour.
"I'm not sure if I lost consciousness or not, but my head was spinning. ... I felt strong, but my head was spinning," he said.
Phillips added that he hopes the United States will be able to restore regular shuttle flights next year. The program was grounded in 2003 after the Columbia disaster; the shuttle Discovery went up in July, but the program was put on hold again after foam insulation peeled away from the shuttle.
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