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Starman falls to Earth after five-month space odyssey

By Dmitry Solovyov and Irene Klotz

ALMATY/CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The Canadian astronaut who became a music sensation when his zero-gravity version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" went viral on the web returned to Earth along with two crewmates on Tuesday after a five-month stint on the International Space Station.

Chris Hadfield landed safely in central Kazakhstan with his American and Russian colleagues. Their Soyuz space capsule descended under an orange parachute and raised clouds of dust as it ignited an engine to cushion its landing about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan.

The astronauts were presented with Russian nesting dolls with their images painted on and wore traditional Kazakh embroidered robes and hats over their blue flight suits when they posed for cameras before returning to Russia's cosmonaut training center outside Moscow for medical tests.

"It's part of humanity to be in space," Hadfield said in Russian. "What we were feeling, what we were doing there, the music we played, this is a big part of our lives." He called his time in orbit an "amazing experience".

Hadfield, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko had left the $100-billion orbital outpost about 3-1/2 hours earlier as it sailed 255 miles over eastern Mongolia.

Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the space station, made more history on Monday when he released the first music video shot in space - his poignant "cyberspace" rendition of Space Oddity, which was first released in 1969 just before the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The video, with its familiar refrain "Ground Control to Major Tom" had almost seven million hits on YouTube on Tuesday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo

"I'm very happy that ... seven million are interested. It is very interesting and historic to be in space," Hadfield said.

SPACEWALK

The space mission included an impromptu spacewalk on Saturday to fix an ammonia coolant leak that had cropped up two days earlier. Without the repair, NASA likely would have had to cut back the station's science experiments to save power. The cooling system dissipates heat from electronics on the station's solar-powered wing panels.

During the 5-1/2-hour walk, Marshburn and Chris Cassidy, who remains aboard the station, replaced a suspect ammonia coolant pump, apparently resolving the leak. Engineers will monitor the system for several weeks to make sure there are no problems.

The mission of Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko, who blasted off 146 days ago, was the 35th expedition aboard the station, a permanently staffed laboratory where crew carry out experiments in fields including biology, physics and astronomy.

Their replacements are due to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 28. Until then, a skeleton crew led by Pavel Vinogradov and including NASA astronaut Cassidy and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will keep the station operating.

The crew's return to Earth was on the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first U.S. space station, Skylab. Three crews lived and worked on the relatively short-lived Skylab between May 1973 and February 1974.

The project helped NASA prepare for research aboard the space shuttles and the International Space Station, which was constructed in orbit beginning in 1998.

The outpost, scheduled to remain in orbit until at least 2020, has been permanently staffed since 2000.

(Additional reporting by Aliyah Suivdikova and Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Pravin Char)

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