March 25, 1996 in Nation/World

American Begins Stay On Mir Shannon Lucid’s 5-Month Stay Starts U.S. Presence In Space For Next 2 Years

Associated Press

NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid became a full-fledged member of Russia’s space station Mir on Sunday, beginning her five-month stay with a flurry of hugs, flashing cameras and chocolate Easter bunnies.

Her switch from the Atlantis to Mir crew was announced by Mission Control 11 hours after the shuttle pulled into the station.

“So if you guys have to pull out of Dodge (before Thursday), she’ll wave at you as you depart,” Mission Control told the five remaining astronauts on Atlantis.

Lucid is the first American woman to live on Mir, and her mission marks the beginning of a permanent U.S. presence in space for the next two years, quite possibly well into the next century.

“It’s been one of many people’s dreams, I think, to have an outpost in space where we can always go to and conduct research and learn more about living in space, and this is the beginning of that,” said Frank Culbertson, director of NASA’s shuttle-Mir program. “And as we go farther and farther out, if we begin exploring the planets, that will certainly be a permanent presence and this will be a part of that.”

Five more Americans are supposed to live on Mir. By the time the last one leaves in 1998, the international space station should be built and housing U.S.-Russian crews.

The eight people on the 522,847-pound Atlantis-Mir complex celebrated Saturday night’s smooth docking - Atlantis’ commander Kevin Chilton was only one second and one inch off the mark - with a gift exchange and, later, dinner on Mir.

Russian cosmonauts Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachev laughed when Chilton handed each of them a chocolate Easter bunny.

“As you know, soon there will be Easter,” Chilton explained in halting Russian, “and traditionally in America for this holiday we eat chocolate Easter bunnies - don’t ask why.”

As soon as the festivities were over, the Atlantis astronauts began hauling more than 5,000 pounds of supplies to the Russian station, including water. As for Lucid, a 53-year-old biochemist and mother of three grown children, she began settling in for what should be the longest U.S. stay in space.

NASA officials expect her to be busier than the only other American to live on Mir, Dr. Norman Thagard, whose science equipment did not arrive until the end of his four-month stay last year.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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