Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, U.S. Have 'Formal Wedding' in Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Astronauts and cosmonauts shook hands and hugged Thursday after the U.S. shuttle docked at the Russian space station Mir, uniting the two former Cold War adversaries in a new era of cooperation.

The two spacecraft had been docked for two hours before U.S. commander Robert "Hoot" Gibson opened the hatch of the shuttle Atlantis and floated into Mir to shake hands with Russian commander Vladimir Dezhurov.

Over the next few minutes there was a jumble of knees and elbows as all 10 smiling space flyers -- six Americans and four Russians -- floated through narrow tunnels into the station's core module for celebratory photos and a formal welcoming ceremony.

"We will cooperate very successfully in the future," Dezhurov said in Russian.

Responding in the same language, Gibson said: "We will build a cooperation based on friendship in the future, and this is a very important step along the way."

The four-man, two-woman Atlantis crew gave chocolate, fresh citrus fruit and flowers to the three men -- two Russians and an American -- aboard Mir.

In return, they received the traditional Russian welcoming gift of bread and salt.

Yury Koptev, director general of the Russian Space Agency, and Daniel Goldin, chief of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, watched the meeting from a control center near Moscow.

They congratulated the Mir crew, which includes NASA astronaut Norman Thagard, in a telephone call about 20 minutes after the two spacecraft docked.

"We started working on this in July of '92 ... and we've had the formal wedding of the United States and Russia in space in June of '95," Goldin said. "This has really been an emotional experience for me, and it's just a wonderful dream come true."

"The American astronauts were great," Koptev declared, smiling broadly.

It is the first meeting of international spacecraft since July 17, 1975, when U.S. Apollo and Soviet Soyuz crews joined hands in orbit. But this was the first time such big spacecraft had docked.

The mission kicks off a series of seven shuttle visits that are scheduled to take place through late 1997, when the United States and Russia will begin assembly of a new, global space station in orbit with the help of Europe, Canada and Japan.

Months of practice on the ground paid off for veteran commander Gibson, who glided the 100-ton shuttle gently and precisely into a docking port on the 123-ton station. The two craft were travelling at 28,000 kilome ters per hour high above Central Asia.

The margin for error was tiny -- only two degrees on the compass, 7.5 centimeters on the ruler, and two minutes on the clock.

But Gibson, a former Navy fighter pilot, "put Atlantis right where it was supposed to be," according to flight commentator Rob Navias.

Gibson said that he flew the approach hundreds of times in a computerized mock-up back at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, and never missed.

Atlantis and Mir brushed together with a shudder that was visible on television pictures beamed down from each craft. Seven short bursts from the shuttle's steering jets helped Gibson drive Atlantis home, and the winged ship was securely moored less than 10 minutes later.

Minutes earlier, Mir's cameras caught cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin smiling widely and waving from their perch in the shuttle's cockpit.

After Atlantis was securely moored, an empty "vestibule" created by the two halves of the docking system was filled with air and checked for leaks, and the pressure in both spacecraft was allowed to equalize.

Launched from Florida on Tuesday, the shuttle carried a relief crew, food, water and other supplies to the space station.

On July 4, Atlantis will leave Solovyev and Budarin behind to begin a 2 1/2-month mission. It will return to Earth with Norman Thagard, the first American to spend time aboard Mir, and his two crewmates.