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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Space Tourist's Dream Trip Comes to an End

KOROLYOV, Moscow Region -- A U.S. software billionaire who won a junior cosmonaut contest as a child in Communist-ruled Hungary returned Saturday from a dream voyage to the international space station, riding a Russian capsule down to the Kazakh steppe along with a Russian and an American who spent seven months in orbit.

Space tourist Charles Simonyi, a 58-year-old who helped create Microsoft Word and Excel, smiled and chatted with rescuers who helped him gingerly out of the Soyuz capsule and appeared energized by his $25 million, two-week trip.

The capsule carrying Simonyi, cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria touched down after a more than three-hour trip from the orbital station. It kicked up a big dust cloud on impact, but a spokesman at Mission Control outside Moscow called it a "soft landing."

Simonyi looked delighted after rescuers helped him out of the rounded capsule, which lay askew on the bleak grassland, and into a chair covered with fur for warmth. He smiled, grinned broadly and spoke animatedly with members of a support crew who greeted him with hugs and handshakes.

"It's good to be back, good to be back on Earth," Simonyi said in footage from the scene. "Fantastic."

He bit enthusiastically into a green apple, which has become a traditional offering for space crews touching down in Kazakhstan, famous for its apples.

Asked about his first impressions upon return, a smiling Simonyi uttered in Russian, "The sun is shining. The weather is good," in footage broadcast by the state Vesti-24 network. Simonyi had studied Russian in school in Hungary before leaving the country at 17. He took another language course in preparation for the flight.

Tyurin looked pale and tired, but soon managed a smile in a video link with Mission Control. "The first thing I felt on Earth was the smell," he told Vesti-24.

Lopez-Alegria, the last out of the capsule, sighed with relief, smiled and talked to the support crew as doctors measured the men's vital signs. He drank from a bottle of what appeared to be water.

Alegria set the U.S. record for continuous space flight by spending 215 days in orbit. He also set another U.S. record: 10 space walks over his career.

The capsule raced down to Earth after separating from the two other sections of the Soyuz TMA-9 craft following its departure from the station, where one of the final tasks the travelers performed was to move containers with biological experiments from refrigerators on the station into the Soyuz.

"I crossed my fingers all the way, and I am very happy now," Simonyi's brother, Tamas, said at Mission Control. "Yes, I was nervous, but now it's a big relief to know that he's safe and sound and that the crew is safe and sound."

Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov said all the cosmonauts "feel wonderful."

"But of course, Charles Simonyi feels the best, which is understandable. He is already giving interviews left and right," he said.