HOUSTON — Russia's run-down Mir space station got a new oxygen generator Saturday and a fresh astronaut ready to help with repairs.
Within 12 hours of the space shuttle Atlantis' arrival, NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger was back on the shuttle, his ride home after four months on Mir. And Michael Foale and his two new Mir-mates were assured of sufficient air.
"I stand relieved of duties on the Mir," Linenger said. "It's good to be back on U.S. soil."
The long-distance delivery by Atlantis was perfectly timed and executed. After a flurry of glad-to-see-yous, the 10 astronauts and cosmonauts on the linked ships quickly moved the new generator into Mir to replace a broken unit, accomplishing the job hours earlier than planned.
Mir's crew had been relying on only one functioning generator instead of the usual two, and that unit was hardly reliable--a clogged filter caused it to temporarily shut down two months ago. An attached pump, in fact, malfunctioned shortly after Friday night's docking, and the generator had to be put on standby until the latest problem could be solved.
Shortly after the new generator was hauled into Mir as a backup for the one on standby, Linenger and Foale officially swapped places.
Linenger, a 42-year-old doctor, giggled as he radioed down a list of the transferred items that will return to Earth with him next Saturday.
"It's a pleasure to be talking so simply and directly--without a few days' delay, like we have operating on Mir," he told Mission Control.
Foale is the fifth of seven NASA astronauts scheduled to live on Mir. He will remain on board until Atlantis returns for him in late September.
"I have a big smile on my face," the 40-year-old British-born astrophysicist said after floating into Mir and embracing his new Russian crew mates. "I've been looking forward to seeing these guys."
Linenger, understandably, was the most excited of the bunch when the doors swung open. It was the first time he had seen Americans face-to-face since Atlantis dropped him off in January.
"Oh my gosh!" he shouted as the seven shuttle crew members greeted him with a bag of pretzels, just what he'd been craving.
Atlantis and Mir--a combined 524,000 pounds--are to remain linked nearly 250 miles above Earth until Wednesday night.