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U.S., Russia honeymoon in space

By IRENE BROWN UPI Science Writer

SPACE CENTER, Houston, July 2 -- It may not be a match made in heaven, but the American and Russian orbital liaison is becoming more than a marriage of convenience. Since shuttle Atlantis pulled up to Mir last week, bearing gifts, fruits and a replacement crew, the United States and Russia have been co-habitating in space for the first time in 20 years. The relationship is intended to lead to a permanent partnership for a new $40 billion international space station. The flawless docking consummated the technical requirements of the venture, but the cultural clash started before the hatches opened. On the historic marking of the first orbital encounter since the superpowers disarmed their nuclear missiles, the all-veteran space shuttle Atlantis crew, identically dressed in red and blue, lined up at the closed door -- and waited for satellite TV coverage. Finally the moment arrived. The commander, the first shuttle pilot ever to leave his spaceship, advanced. And then came his crew, jockeying for position with their Nikons, video camera, cables and lights. The Russians weren't amused. Back on Earth, ground control centers on opposite sides of the world linked their fax machines to iron out details of the crews' day. 'In all, it's really going well ... although it does take some time to go through a translation,' said Lee Briscoe, with NASA's Mission Operations office. 'I expect more (real-time decision making) as the two teams learn how to work together more.' Flight directors will get their chance.

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NASA plans to fly Atlantis six more times to Mir over the next two years, while negotiators flesh out financial and technical details of the planned but still unnamed international space station. Officially, the reason why -- after 35 years of independence -- the world's premiere space programs need partners is money. 'In Russia, there's a saying that there's no bad without some good,' said Anatoly Solovyev, a passenger on Atlantis who will be staying behind on Mir for two months. 'Each of our sides is facing financial problems. There are also technical problems and we must find a way out of this situation. Life itself suggests the optimal way out,' said Solovyev, speaking in Russian, during an inflight interview Sunday. The compatibility of the Russian and American manned space programs is ironic, considering that the expertise and equipment was generated by heated Cold War politics. For example, the docking port now occupied by shuttle Atlantis was originally intended but never used by the Russian shuttle Buran, mothballed after one showcase flight. The U.S. space shuttle, so named because it was to be the transportation component of a manned space program that included a space station, has, until last week, only been used to reach satellites and low-Earth orbit. Skylab, the only space station ever built or occupied by Americans, fell from the sky before the shuttles were born. The Russians have years of experience with long-duration spaceflight but until Atlantis was sent to retrieve cosmonauts' blood, urine and saliva samples for refrigerated return to Earth, researchers were unable to begin unraveling the biochemical changes of weightless existence. In addition, the space shuttle, outfitted with a medical lab in the cargo bay, is providing scientists the opportunity to begin monitoring those changes while the astronauts are still in orbit. Even dedicated Spacelab missions, however, are limited to less than three weeks. The Russian-American merger fits even when it comes to wastewater. Astronauts typically dump overboard hundreds of gallons of excess water, generated as a byproduct of the shuttle's electrical system. This mission the water is being carefully pumped into storage jugs and transferred into Mir. 'Anytime you have any empty tank, go ahead and fill it,' astronaut Story Musgrave told Atlantis engineer Gregory Harbaugh. 'Mir can use all the water we can give them.' Before the flight, NASA planned to transfer about 50 gallons of water to Mir. As of Sunday, they astronauts had delivered nearly twice that amount. 'This is an example of the benefits of cooperative work,' said astronaut-physician Norman Thagard, who spent 3 1/2 months in orbit aboard Mir. Thagard, who turns 52 on Monday, Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov will return with the rest of the Atlantis crew on July 7. Although NASA's future flights to Mir do not include crew exchanges, the Russians will be counting on Americans to refreshen Mir's air, refill its water tanks and resupply its pantry and tool box. The $4 billion shuttle-Mir project will be cheap if it accomplishes its not-so-hidden agenda. 'The expectation is that if you engage the Russians in civilized behavior it will keep them out of trouble,' said Russian space program follower James Oberg, author of 'Red Star in Orbit' and other space books. 'Saving money is just an excuse. They're doing it for diplomatic reasons, just like the Apollo program.' Technically and politically, the U.S.-Russian space alliance has the potential for problems, Oberg added. 'If there was a divorce a couple of years into the program and someone had to go out and unbolt the Russian section, the United States probably wouldn't have a viable space station. 'That's ammunition for powerful blackmail that the Russians will have and it provides them with opportunities to make demands or dictate U.S. restraint. That scares me,' Oberg said. The successful Atlantis-Mir mission has demonstrated that engineers can make the marriage work. It will be up to politicians to keep the commitment.

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intended but never used by the Russian shuttle Buran, mothballed after one showcase flight. The U.S. space shuttle, so named because it was to be the transportation component of a manned space program that included a space station, has, until last week, only been used to reach satellites and low-Earth orbit. Skylab, the only space station ever built or occupied by Americans, fell from the sky before the shuttles were born. The Russians have years of experience with long-duration spaceflight but until Atlantis was sent to retrieve cosmonauts' blood, urine and saliva samples for refrigerated return to Earth, researchers were unable to begin unraveling the biochemical changes of weightless existence. In addition, the space shuttle, outfitted with a medical lab in the cargo bay, is providing scientists the opportunity to begin monitoring those changes while the astronauts are still in orbit. Even dedicated Spacelab missions, however, are limited to less than three weeks. The Russian-American merger fits even when it comes to wastewater. Astronauts typically dump overboard hundreds of gallons of excess water, generated as a byproduct of the shuttle's electrical system. This mission the water is being carefully pumped into storage jugs and transferred into Mir. 'Anytime you have any empty tank, go ahead and fill it,' astronaut Story Musgrave told Atlantis engineer Gregory Harbaugh. 'Mir can use all the water we can give them.' Before the flight, NASA planned to transfer about 50 gallons of water to Mir. As of Sunday, they astronauts had delivered nearly twice that amount. 'This is an example of the benefits of cooperative work,' said astronaut-physician Norman Thagard, who spent 3 1/2 months in orbit aboard Mir. Thagard, who turns 52 on Monday, Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov will return with the rest of the Atlantis crew on July 7. Although NASA's future flights to Mir do not include crew exchanges, the Russians will be counting on Americans to refreshen Mir's air, refill its water tanks and resupply its pantry and tool box. The $4 billion shuttle-Mir project will be cheap if it accomplishes its not-so-hidden agenda. 'The expectation is that if you engage the Russians in civilized behavior it will keep them out of trouble,' said Russian space program follower James Oberg, author of 'Red Star in Orbit' and other space books. 'Saving money is just an excuse. They're doing it for diplomatic reasons, just like the Apollo program.' Technically and politically, the U.S.-Russian space alliance has the potential for problems, Oberg added. 'If there was a divorce a couple of years into the program and someone had to go out and unbolt the Russian section, the United States probably wouldn't have a viable space station. 'That's ammunition for powerful blackmail that the Russians will have and it provides them with opportunities to make demands or dictate U.S. restraint. That scares me,' Oberg said. The successful Atlantis-Mir mission has demonstrated that engineers can make the marriage work. It will be up to politicians to keep the commitment.

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