BY OUR SPACE CADET
PYONGYANG (AP) - In a Reaganesque finale to his one-week stay on board the International Space Station, President George W Bush made a ballistic reentry into the earth's atmosphere in a Soyuz capsule but landed in North Korea instead of the South Lawn of the White House, space experts disclosed Tuesday.
The event marked many firsts. It was the first time that a US astronaut has returned to earth on board a Russian spacecraft, and the first time in history that a sitting US president has paid a surprise visit to North Korea. A Russian space official at the cosmodrome in Star City, Kazakhstan, believed that the steeper-than-normal reentry was caused by a glitch in the guidance system in the president's cerebral cortex. "It was a software problem, not a hardware problem," he told a packed news conference.
It took helicopters hours to locate the craft near the DMZ, and when rescue personnel finally reached it they found the president walking a little unsteadily and trying to interrogate a bewildered North Korean border guard in International Sign Language.
"As long as I was in North Korea, I figured I should ask folks here about their nuke reactors and the manufacture of weapons-grade plutonium," Bush told reporters dressed in full space regalia. Of his dramatic reentry into the atmosphere during which the Soyuz space capsule was exposed to eight Gs, Bush said: "There is a lot of pressure on the chest as you get to sub-orbital velocity, your tongue sort of slips around inside your mouth and toward the back of your throat, and at one point there I thought I hit the G-spot."
Bush added that his landing here, although unscheduled, would "send a strong signal" to all countries harbouring terrorists, contemplating the development of weapons of mass destruction, or boycotting McDonalds: that "the American president can drop in on you at anytime anywhere in the world".
In Washington DC, a senior White House official denied that the reentry was deliberately planned as a made-for-television footage for the 2004 Re-elect Bush Campaign, but added: "As commander-in-chief, the president wanted to go into space to personally look for Saddam Hussein. We had intelligence reports that the Russians smuggled him out of Baghdad before it fell to coalition forces, and secretly blasted him off into space so he could hide in the International Space Station with the $1billion cash he stole from the Iraqi Central Bank. The president believes the war isn't over till he gets Saddam."
Asked of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the official revealed that the leader of Al Qaeda in fact did not exist and that was why it was so difficult to find him. "But we'll keep trying," he added.