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Songs and Goodbyes Mark Shuttle's Departure From Mir

May 22, 1997| From Associated Press

HOUSTON — Astronauts and cosmonauts parted company Wednesday night with songs and bittersweet goodbyes as space shuttle Atlantis pulled away from Russia's Mir station and disappeared into the darkness.

Atlantis left the same way it came--ever so slowly and gently--as the two spacecraft soared 250 miles above Ukraine. The shuttle left behind a new oxygen generator and other crucial repair equipment, as well as a replacement for U.S. astronaut Jerry Linenger.

"Bye-bye, Atlantis," a Mir cosmonaut called out as Russian folk music played in the background. There was another faint "bye-bye." Then "See you later." As the shuttle slipped farther and farther away, the crew sang the Russian cosmonaut tune to their Mir friends.

Linenger was elated to be going home on Atlantis after four difficult months aboard the aging Mir. He returns to Earth on Saturday.

"I'm going fishing!" he said earlier in the day, just before the hatches were sealed. "What I miss most are things like fresh air and the breeze in my face."

His wife, Kathryn, has some other ideas, like preparing a nursery. She's due to give birth to their second child on June 27. And she's already arranged a haircut for her husband; he's looking a little shaggy these days.

"I have a whole list of to-do things for him. He will not be bored," she promised.

During his Mir mission, which seemed to feature a drama du jour, Linenger battled flames, fumes, excruciatingly high temperatures and broken machinery. The 42-year-old doctor said it was "a tough time," but added: "Any adventure like that when you come close to pushing the envelope and survive, it's a great adventure and in retrospect I have no regrets whatsoever."

Nonetheless, Linenger made sure he wouldn't be left behind. He was the first one into Atlantis when it came time to close the doors after five days of linked flight.

Cries of "We'll see you" filled the docking tunnel, as well as "spasibo," Russian for thank you.

Michael Foale, Linenger's relief aboard Mir, smiled as he watched his American colleagues float away one by one.

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