Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts had shaken hands in space once before, in July 1975. But last July’s rendezvous between the space shuttle Atlantis and the Russian Mir space station took place in a brand-new climate: the cold war is over, and budgets on both sides of the world are tight. It is a climate peculiarly conducive to good will and cooperation. Judging from the group photo at left, the warmth was felt by the assembled ’nauts, who remained in one another’s company for five days while running medical experiments, snapping photographs, and practicing flying the bulky station.
Thanks to Mir, Russia has far more experience than the United States does with long stays in space. Since NASA can’t afford to build its own wildly expensive space station all alone, the two countries are planning more cooperation and more rendezvous--which NASA sees as warm-up exercises for space-station construction--over the next two years.