Image: McArthur
Astronaut Bill McArthur waves to the welcoming crowd gathered on the steppes of Kazakhstan as he is carried from the Soyuz craft that brought him and his crewmates back from the international space station in April. Astronauts returning from the station are carried because they're unaccustomed to gravity's effect.
updated 5/25/2006 6:37:56 PM ET 2006-05-25T22:37:56

Veteran NASA astronaut Bill McArthur has no qualms about hanging up his spacesuit after his stint as commander of the international space station, but leaving the orbital laboratory behind last month was no easy task.

“We did see the space station recede in our view with a very strong sense of sadness because it was home for us,” McArthur told in a recent telephone interview. “It’s of course wonderful to be back.”

McArthur, originally from Wakulla, N.C., spent six months in command of the space station alongside Russian cosmonaut and flight engineer Valery Tokarev during their Expedition 12 mission. The two astronauts and short-term station visitor Marcos Pontes — Brazil’s first astronaut — returned to Earth last month.

“I think our recovery has gone quite well, and it’s nice to be home with friends and family,” said McArthur, who will discuss his 190-day spaceflight — the last of his astronaut career — with the public Thursday night at the Space Center Houston near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The Expedition 12 crew arrived at the space station in October 2005 with the visiting U.S. space tourist Gregory Olsen. McArthur and Tokarev performed two spacewalks during their flight, as well as a myriad of experiments and maintenance tasks. They also launched an unmanned spacesuit into orbit from the space station and caught a rare orbital view of a solar eclipse’s shadow on the Earth.

Like past NASA astronauts, McArthur recorded a series of educational videos to describe the experience of living in space.

“I think it was a success because of not only the good training … but also the good relationship between us and between NASA and the Russian space agency,” Tokarev, who repeatedly referred to McArthur as his “space brother” throughout their mission, said in an interview.

Expedition 12 marked the first long-duration spaceflight for both Tokarev and McArthur. Tokarev previously flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1999’s STS-96 mission, while McArthur served aboard three orbiter missions.

Of all his spaceflights, McArthur said Expedition 12 stands out, and not just because it was his last.

“On each of my shuttle flights, at the end of the flight, I’d always hoped that we would have a weather wave-off day or two so we could stay in orbit just a little longer,” he said. “I kind of liken it to the difference between taking a vacation to an interesting place and living in that place. We lived in space for six months, and it was a thrill.”

With NASA’s space shuttle fleet bound for a 2010 retirement and a large number of astronauts still yet to fly, McArthur said he believed it was time stay earthbound to allow others the same spaceflight opportunities he experienced.

“I’m ready to sit on the sidelines as they go forward, and hopefully one of them will go to Mars,” he added.

But no matter where future astronauts reach out in space, they will likely not forget their home planet, Tokarev told He appreciated the warm earthly reception from Russian and U.S. flight controllers after landing.

“There’s only one planet for each of us,” Tokarev said of Earth. “It’s our home.”

NASA astronaut Bill McArthur will discuss his Expedition 12 spaceflight, as well as present slides, video and answer questions about the mission at the Space Center Houston, 1601 NASA Parkway,  beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT. Doors open at 6 p.m. CT. The event is free to the public.

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