No offense, guys, but NASA astronaut Norman Thagard would have preferred different company during his record-breaking four months in space.
“If I could have brought my wife along I probably would have,” he said Monday before the space voyagers said their farewells aboard the orbiting Atlantis-Mir complex.
The U.S. shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir are due to undock today after five days of being linked by a pressurized tunnel. The 10 spacefarers thanked flight controllers in both countries for their help, then retreated to their own vehicles and closed the hatches Monday. There were last-minute hugs and a final handshake.
“Together we can do everything we want to do, including a flight to Mars,” Thagard said in his last words to the Russian Mission Control outside Moscow.
“It’s just one of the small mile-stones along a much greater journey,” added Atlantis’ commander, Robert “Hoot” Gibson. “But at least we have begun that very long journey.”
Thagard spent nearly four months circling Earth with Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov, who also can’t wait to return to their wives and children. The three are returning to Earth aboard Atlantis, due to land Friday.
Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin, who traveled to Mir aboard Atlantis, will remain on the station.
Women are needed in space, Strekalov replied when asked by a Russian reporter what it was like to fly with Atlantis’ two female crew members. “The more the better,” he said.
The reporter, a woman, said a former Mir cosmonaut was glad to have a woman along because she did “traditional female tasks such as washing dishes.”
Dezhurov responded: “Up here on the station, we have a particular way of working and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. Everybody’s got their responsibilities.”