Sad Parting for U.S., Russian Space Crews
In an emotional farewell, astronauts and cosmonauts embraced and sang “Those Were the Days” on Friday before closing the hatches between their linked U.S. and Russian spaceships.
“It’s most difficult to say goodby, and the Russians have a much better expression, which is do svidaniye --until we see each other again,” said Kenneth Cameron, commander of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis.
Atlantis was due to separate and fly away from the Russian Mir station early today, three days after the second successful docking between a shuttle and Mir.
Five more shuttle-Mir linkups are planned as the two nations, once enemies, gear up to build an international space station.
The eight men were visibly moved as they patted each other’s shoulders and clasped hands in the farewell ceremony.
Two hours later, after one last handshake between Cameron and Mir’s Russian commander, Yuri Gidzenko, the two hatches between the shuttle and station were sealed. Cameron called it “a bittersweet moment.”
The shuttle crew left more than 400 items on Mir, including the 15-foot docking tunnel that joined the two spacecraft, more than 100 gallons of water, fresh food, and scientific experiments for a U.S. astronaut who will spend five months on the station beginning with Atlantis’ next visit.
Nearly 200 items were transferred from Mir to Atlantis for return to Earth on Monday, when the shuttle is due back in Florida. They included a flag commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.