Father and child reunion for Mir astronaut

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The Independent Online
British-born astronaut Michael Foale tucked into a pizza he had ordered from outer space - "everything on it, but hold the anchovies" - early yesterday after landing safely at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the shuttle Atlantis from a 145-day space odyssey.

Watched by his wife Rhonda and grabbing his daughter Jenna, 7, and son Ian, 3, for both hugs and balance, he said he planned to spend his first day back getting his "earth legs" after the gravity-free environment on board the Russian space station Mir. "His legs feel like weights. It's very hard putting one foot in front of the other," his mother Mary said from his parents' home in Cambridge.

Who delivered the 40-year-old astrophysicist's pizza was not immediately known, but back in Britain, Pizza Hut marketeers were quick to spot the potential and offered him pounds 20,000 to advertise their product. "We feel he has star quality," a Pizza Hut spokesman said, adding with no hint of irony: "The sky's the limit for Michael."

No hint of irony either from his father, 67-year-old Air Commodore Colin Foale, who said the whole family was "over the moon". "He joins a hall of heroes now. I have been told Nasa believes he was the right man in the right place for this particular mission," Air Commodore Foale added.

The astronaut may have been born in Britain but he looked as American as the chocolate chip cookies he had wolfed down as post-pizza dessert when he appeared before reporters in a stars-and-stripes baseball cap yesterday. "I am very glad to be holding these children," he said. "Ian has grown to twice his size. You've become a rebel," he added, grinning at his sleepy son. "Jenna has become a little lady," he said. When his daughter squealed with delight, he added: "sometimes".

"I feel not particularly heavy, but a little uncertain in terms of walking and balance. I miss the breeze. I want to get strong enough to be able to go outside and walk. That's going to be my goal for the next day."

Foale was visibly upset when asked in a television interview about the Mir's collision in July with a re-supply craft, widely blamed on the Mir's then commander Vasily Tsibliyev. "He felt responsible for the whole accident," Foale said, "which I don't quite feel." Shaking his head and looking down, he added: "No, this is too hard to talk about".