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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Weary Foale Makes It Home at Last

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Space shuttle Atlantis has returned to Earth, bringing American astronaut Michael Foale home to his beloved family after a tumultuous 4 1/2 months aboard Mir.


His two children, ages 3 and 5, jumped into his lap as soon as they saw him Monday.


"He's happy to be back on Earth and happy to be home and he said it was a great adventure,'' said Frank Culbertson, director of NASA's shuttle-Mir program.


Atlantis and its seven-member crew swooped through a hazy sky and landed at Kennedy Space Center on Monday, one day late. Thick clouds had prevented the shuttle from landing Sunday.


Shortly after Atlantis rolled to a safe stop, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin called from Italy to welcome Foale back to the planet and congratulate him on "a wonderful job.''


Hours later, Foale said his former commander blamed himself for the crash of an unmanned resupply ship that left the Mir space station crippled.


In an emotional interview broadcast by NASA early Tuesday, Foale said the most memorable experience of his mission to Mir came in July when Mir commander Vasily Tsibliyev realized that an irregular heartbeat would prevent him from making a space walk to begin repairs on the crash-damaged Spektr module.


A weary-looking Foale struggled to explain Tsibliyev's feelings of guilt: "He felt responsible for the whole accident, which I don't quite feel ..." His words choked by emotion, Foale was unable to go on.


"No, this is too hard to talk about," he said.


Tsibliyev was initially blamed by some Russian space officials for the June 25 collision, the worst accident in Mir's 11-year history.


The cosmonaut was steering the Progress supply ship by remote control when it plowed into the station and punctured the air-tight hull of the Spektr science module.


An official inquiry reported last week that the crash was caused by "an unfavorable combination of factors" and did not hold Tsibliyev personally responsible.


Foale said he was getting used to the pull of gravity after 144 days aloft. The British-born astronaut told a NASA interviewer he didn't feel particularly heavy, but "a little uncertain in terms of walking and balance."


"Very glad to be holding these children," he said, hugging his daughter Jenna and son Ian.


Foale said he was looking forward to taking a vacation in the sun and getting a tan.


Separately, Rhonda Foale said she's relieved her husband no longer is on Mir.


"Not that he wasn't safe,'' she quickly added, "but just that things kind of were happening all the time that I'm not really in touch with.''


Despite all the trouble, she said her husband is glad he did it, and so is she.


"It was really rewarding for him,'' she said. "I'm looking forward to hearing the stories, having communication where we can really communicate with each other with no delays and static and a thousand people listening.''


(AP, Reuters)