Astronaut Felt `Cultural Isolation'

Article excerpt

It's not that he didn't enjoy himself, but. . . .

Astronaut Norman Thagard says he would have preferred different company during his record 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 at 6:10 a.m. today St. Louis time after five days of being linked by a pressurized tunnel. Before retreating to their own vehicles and closing the hatches Monday, the 10 space travelers thanked flight controllers in both countries for their help.

"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.

In an emotional ceremony, broadcast from the corps module of Mir, Thagard grimaced frequently, and astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, who trained for a year with cosmonauts, wiped her eyes occasionally.

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.

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. …