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Discovery Resupplies Mir; U.S. Astronaut Readies for Trip Home

<i> From Associated Press</i>

In NASA’s last linkup with Mir, the shuttle Discovery docked Thursday with the Russian space station to pick up U.S. astronaut Andrew Thomas and deliver supplies.

Operating with an automatic steering system that was repaired just days ago, Mir held steady as shuttle commander Charles Precourt guided Discovery toward the outpost 240 miles above Earth.

About 90 minutes after the docking, the hatches swung open and a homesick Thomas was reunited with his American colleagues.

He embraced them one by one as they floated into Mir.

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“It’s really a wonderful moment for me,” he said.

“Andy, how you doing, bud?” Precourt asked Thomas.

“Welcome aboard,” Thomas responded. An Australian-born engineer who spent four months aboard Mir, Thomas, 46, is the last of seven Americans to live there.

A malfunction in Discovery’s communications system prevented the shuttle from transmitting any clear live images of the linkup or hatch-opening. At docking, television viewers instead watched a slightly shaky image provided by Mir’s TV system.

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Thomas settled into Discovery a short time later.

It was the ninth shuttle-Mir docking in three years. But once Discovery leaves Monday, U.S. and Russian spacecraft won’t meet again until the two countries start assembling a joint space station in orbit at the end of the year.

The shuttle crew presented Mir’s two cosmonauts with onions, chocolate, music tapes and penknives, then quickly got to work. Between now and Monday, the two crews will move all of Thomas’ experiments and other gear into Discovery and offload water, food and other Russian supplies to Mir.

In addition, Discovery’s Russian crew member, Valery Ryumin, will inspect the 12-year-old space station to see how much life it has left.

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Discovery is to return Thomas to Earth on June 12. He rocketed into space Jan. 22.

Last year, Mir was hit by a raging fire and ruptured in a collision with a cargo ship. Thomas’ stay, by contrast, was uneventful, aside from last weekend’s failure of the automatic steering system.


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