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COSMONAUT RETURNS TO A NEW AND VASTLY DIFFERENT COUNTRY

A cosmonaut floated down to a snowy plain Wednesday after spending 10 months in space while his country disintegrated, changed its leaders and flag, and even renamed his hometown.

Sergei Krikalev and fellow Russian Alexander Volkov, who joined him aboard the Mir space station in October, were the Soviet Union's last cosmonauts. Their replacements aboard the orbiting Mir now represent Russia.Krikalev landed at 11:51 a.m. aboard the Soyuz TM-13 spacecraft with Volkov and Klaus-Dietrich Flade, a German test pilot whose country paid $24 million to send him into space.

Workers lifted the three from the spacecraft, put them in chairs and wrapped them in coats. They wiped their brows and took their blood pressure.

Krikalev (whose name is pronounced sur'-gay kreek'-uh-lawf) was given smelling salts and appeared a bit dizzy. Television said he was feeling "marvelous."

Krikalev blasted off last May 18 and spent 313 days in space. Volkov flew into orbit five months ago. Flade spent just eight days on Mir, going up with the first Russian space mission since the demise of the Soviet Union.

Krikalev, 34, originally was scheduled to return in October. But in order to be allowed to keep using the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, Russia had to agree to send up an inexperienced Kazakh cosmonaut in October. That meant the veteran had to stay until this month.

While he was in space, the Soviet Union splintered, Mikhail S. Gorbachev resigned and Boris Yeltsin became president of Russia. Krikalev's hometown of Leningrad was renamed St. Petersburg.

The once-proud Soviet space program also had to go begging. Russia is turning to its former ideological adversaries for money to keep the 6-year-old Mir flying. Previous customers have included Japan, Britain and Austria.