msnbc.com news services
updated 10/30/2003 1:35:32 PM ET 2003-10-30T18:35:32

A hot shower and a new wife helped two astronauts come down to earth after six months in orbit. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and U.S. astronaut Edward Lu landed in Kazakhstan Tuesday after a trouble-free flight from the international space station. The thrill of life on the 16-nation orbital platform more than made up for missing creature comforts, Lu said Thursday.

“IT’S A SMALL price to pay not to be able to eat your favorite food or take a shower ... to get to live and work in space,” Lu told a news conference. “But that being said, that first hot shower felt really good.”

Having wed his fiancee Kat Dmitriev in August via a satellite video link from space, Malenchenko plunged straight into married life, although he did not want to elaborate.

“Life continues on earth, I think we’ve got some plans — but we will see,” he said.

The astronauts said they had been able to keep in touch with their families from the station via e-mail and video telephone.

“I missed my family and fiancee, but we had very good communications on board and we were able to talk,” said Lu. “I didn’t feel that separated from my loved ones on the ground.”

SAFETY DEBATED

The crew said concerns over air quality on the space station were overblown, and officials should focus on more immediate problems. Last week, NASA officials acknowledged that air and water monitors on the space station were in disrepair.

Lawmakers raised the subject repeatedly this week during a rare series of three congressional hearings on NASA, eager to investigate whether the Oct. 18 launch decision reflected a lapse in judgment by NASA. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C., sharply accused NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe of being “long on vision but short on the safety of space.”

“This is a really long-term issue that is not a great danger,” Lu told reporters. “We can go quite a long time without fixing it, as we can bring down samples and analyze them on the ground.”

“The situation up there ... has been a little overblown and is distracting from the real problems ... such as launching and landing,” he said.

Visiting NASA officials said scientists were analyzing an air sample from the capsule, and results would be ready in two to three weeks.

Safety concerns dogged the run-up to their return to earth after the previous crew landed hundreds of miles off target. But the long-duration crew — accompanied by Spaniard Pedro Duque, who was on a one-week mission — landed as planned Tuesday.

The space station has depended entirely on Russia for launches of manned and cargo ships to the platform since February, when the United States grounded its shuttles after the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, killing the seven astronauts onboard.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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