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Astronauts Bid Farewell to Friends on Mir

<i> from Associated Press</i>

It ended with music, the sorrowful strains of “Those Were the Days,” as the space shuttle Atlantis and its crew parted company with the Russian space station Mir on Saturday.

The Mir cosmonauts radioed a Russian recording of the 1960s song to their comrades on Atlantis, circling the station in a photographic survey. It had become “their song” during the three days the two craft were linked 248 miles above Earth.

“It’s a beautiful song,” shuttle commander Kenneth Cameron said in Russian to the three men on Mir. “We’ll remember our time together when we hear it from now on.”

The undocking--like everything else on the joint mission--went “by the book,” said NASA flight director Bill Reeves.

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Cameron pulled out as skillfully as he’d pulled in Wednesday, dodging station antennas and solar panels. He backed away from Mir at a rate of just two inches per second as the two spacecraft soared over Poland at 17,500 m.p.h.

Two hours later, after two revolutions of the space station, Cameron fired jets and Atlantis flew away.

Atlantis and its five astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth on Monday. The Mir cosmonauts have 3 1/2 months remaining in their six-month mission.

The shuttle crew left behind a new docking port on Mir that will be used by Atlantis on its next visit in March, when a U.S. astronaut is to be dropped off for a five-month stay. The 15-foot Russian-built tunnel remained attached to Mir when Atlantis undocked.

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Delivery of that tunnel was the chief objective of Atlantis’ eight-day flight. The Russians wanted a safe, easy-to-access port for future dockings.


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