Slovak spaceman lands safely back on earth

Slovak Defense Minister Pavol Kanis mailed a congratulatory telegram to the first Slovak man to travel to space, Ivan Bella, on the occasion of his return on the Earth on Sunday, February 28. Kanis wrote in his telegram that all Slovaks had kept their fingers crossed for the flyer during the mission.

"Now after your soft landing, we are looking forward to your return here and meeting personally with you," Kanis wrote.

Defense Minister's spokesman Pavol Vitko announced Bella will return to Slovakia from Russia in about three weeks.

Bella said that the mission's research tasks went smoothly. The hatching of a cluster of Japanese quails - which are commonly eaten in space- was difficult, however, as the birds were in shock and had to be fed through syringes.

The international French-Russian-Slovak eight-day space mission to the Russian space station MIR took off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on February 27. The crew included commander Viktor Afanasiev, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Heignere, and the Slovak Ivan Bella.

Slovakia is the 21st country to send a man to space.

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