In what sounded like a frat house after a big football victory, two American astronauts traded places in orbit Wednesday in a raucous linkup between the shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir.
John Blaha moved into the shuttle for the ride home after more than four months on Mir, while Jerry Linenger settled in aboard the orbiting Russian outpost for a similarly long adventure.
The arrival of the six Atlantis astronauts was punctuated by ear-splitting cheers and laughter 240 miles above Earth.
The two cosmonauts aboard Mir offered bread and salt, a traditional Russian welcome. The Americans gave them a bag of oranges as well as can openers - what the Russians had requested. The gifts floated every which way in zero gravity.
After a smooth docking Tuesday night, a dead battery in a hand-held mike slightly delayed the opening of the shuttle hatch. Blaha, who had not seen Americans face to face since Atlantis had dropped him off in September, beckoned impatiently for the shuttle astronauts to come in.
Blaha offered a round of drinks - in foil pouches with straws - and described his thrill at seeing the approaching shuttle.
“It was a shining star. It got bigger and bigger,” said Blaha, 54, a former combat and test pilot. “Then, of course, the sun came up, and bam! You saw the shuttle and it was quite a beautiful sight.”