MOSCOW -- Russians on the streets of Moscow gave a thumbs-up Thursday to the first ride by a Russian cosmonaut on an American spaceflight, although many were unaware the unprecedented mission was even taking place.
Russian newspapers virtually ignored the blastoff of the U.S. space shuttle carrying a Russian cosmonaut, but the liftoff was broadcast live throughout the former Soviet republics.
For Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, a veteran of marathon space flights, the eight-day mission represents a relatively quick orbit around the Earth, but he said he felt like a student aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
'I heard about the take-off on television and I think it's great that Russians are sharing their scientific knowledge with Americans,' said 12-year-old Volodya Prosvoryakov.
'We need to establish contacts with America and have our governments work together,' said a bundled-up Anna Baskakova, 22, on the cold streets of Moscow. 'Space is a frontier for better relations all around and I hope that the overall outcome of this will be friendship.'
'I want to know what's up there too!' exclaimed 60-year-old Raisa Voronkova.
'It's important that science is being shared and most importantly that it is no longer a secret,' Sergei Sergeyko, 20.
Russian TV, in its broadcast of the blastoff, said Russia experiences fewer crew problems, fewer delays and its cosmonauts have smoother rides.
Krikalev himself, in a pre-launch interview, told the home audience, 'It seems strange to me that people tend to believe, maybe due to lack of knowledge, maybe due to the impression that everything is bad in our country, that we are far behind and that here (in the United States) everything is flourishing.'
Krikalev has spent a total of 15 months circling the Earth in Russian spacecraft.
This mission is the first step by Russia and the United States to work together in space and eventually have Russians and Americans work side by side in orbiting space stations.
Russia's Mir space station has been manned continuously since 1986. After the shuttle Discovery was launched with Krikalev aboard, space officials named the U.S. astronauts who will join a Russian mission to Mir next year.
Although Russians learned little of the Discovery mission with Krikalev beforehand -- Russian newspapers made almost no mention of it on the day of the launch -- C.I.S. television interrupted its Thursday afternoon newscast to broadcast live coverage of the launch.
'The most important thing is that ventures like these show the simple people in Russia that positive influences can also come from America, not just expensive products and Hollywood movies,' Mehak Movsiyan, 30, said on the street.
Galiya Yermakov, 60, said, 'I think it's excellent that we are doing things together. We should cooperate in all areas. Thank God that we are now able to share. I wish them all a successful and safe trip!'