MOSCOW — Cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko returned to Earth on Tuesday after a record-setting 326 days in space and declared, "I feel great."
The two cosmonauts who took over the orbiting space station Mir, however, are expected to break Romanenko's new mark by spending more than a year in space.
Romanenko, 43, showed growing signs of homesickness toward the final weeks of his stay, and he apparently had a short shouting match with ground controllers in the final hours of his mission.
By the time he and fellow cosmonauts Alexander Alexandrov and Anatoly Levchenko arrived by space capsule in a blizzard on the Kazakhstan desert, however, they seemed to be in a better mood.
Treated to Tea
Doctors gave them a quick checkup, pronounced them in good health and gave Romanenko and Alexandrov cups of tea after they were helped to a medical tent.
Romanenko long ago eclipsed the previous space record of 237 days, set in 1984 by three other Soviet cosmonauts. His original partner on the flight, Alexander Laveikin, was brought back to Earth last summer after doctors detected a heartbeat irregularity.
Families of Romanenko and Alexandrov, who had spent 160 days in orbit, were allowed to greet the two cosmonauts almost immediately, without waiting for debriefing and medical checks to be completed.
Their successors on Mir, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manorov, are scheduled to spend at least one year aboard the station and set a new space endurance record by the end of 1988.
The strain of the long flight on Romanenko was apparent, however, in a sharp exchange between Mir and the ground control staff on his last day in orbit.
"We have been spinning around here like squirrels in a wheel," the commander complained. "What with experiments and loading, we still have not had time to pack our personal things, and you are distracting us with unnecessary nagging."
First Full Changeover
Izvestia, the official government newspaper, described the incident, adding that the ground control staff acknowledged that the cosmonauts were overworked but noted that it was the first full crew changeover in space.
The three cosmonauts came down in a Soyuz TM-3 spacecraft, with a parachute slowing them just before touchdown at 12:15 p.m. Moscow time on a snow-covered steppe about 50 miles northeast of the town of Arkalyk, in the republic of Kazakhstan.
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, reported that they all were "feeling fine" after the three-hour trip through the Earth's atmosphere.
Romanenko and Alexandrov were helped to a waiting helicopter that transported them to the Baikonur Cosmodrome where Soviet space launchings are conducted.
Walked by Himself
Levchenko, a test pilot who flew to Mir with the replacement crew only a week ago, walked by himself out of the capsule and was taken immediately by helicopter to a waiting TU-154 airliner that he piloted to Moscow.
Scientists wanted to see if he was capable of flying a plane after emerging from conditions of weightlessness. The Soviet Union is experimenting with a reusable shuttle plane for future space missions.
Winds up to 70 m.p.h. were blowing across the steppe as the space capsule landed, but it came down right on target.
Before departing, Romanenko said farewell to the new crew and wished them a happy and successful stay.
"We wish you a soft landing," Titov, the new Mir commander, told the space record-holder.
Mir was launched in February, 1986. It has been manned by three crews. Its marathon missions are designed to test how well man can adapt to lengthy journeys in space, such as an exploratory trip to Mars, for example, that might take as long as 30 months.