TOKYO, DEC. 10 -- Complaining and cracking jokes as he has since the moment of blastoff eight days ago, Japanese TV newsman Toyohiro Akiyama returned safely to Earth today with the crew of the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz TM-11.
Japan's TBS network, which paid the U.S.S.R. $12 million for the right to send a journalist into space for the first time, broadcast live from a snowy field in the steppes of central Russia as the charred space capsule drifted to Earth beneath a big orange and white parachute.
When Akiyama, whom the network now calls its "outer space correspondent," emerged from the capsule and lifted his helmet, he was met by a microphone from his own network and a reporter asking the inevitable TV reporter question: "How does it feel?"
"Well, I'm back," Akiyama said, reflecting the common-man-goes-to-space approach he has taken throughout the mission.
The 48-year-old reporter has been telling the people of Japan nightly about various space oddities and ailments, and today he went right back to that theme. "I feel like I don't have any feet," he said. This is said to be a common phenomenon for astronauts returning from extended periods of weightlessness.
The Soyuz TM-11 trip was mainly a crew-change mission, carrying two cosmonauts to the Soviet Mir space station and bringing home two others who had been in Mir for four months. Everything about the Soviet mission appeared to go smoothly.
Japan's TBS approached the Soviets to put a journalist on a rocket two years ago. That offer meshed with the Soviet desire to commercialize the space program so it will be less of an economic drag on the government.
TBS is involved in a full-scale ratings war among the six national networks here. Its mega-yen commitment to the first live coverage from outer space helped it somewhat in the ratings, but evidently did not carry the network beyond its two chief rivals in the evening news segment.