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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Cosmonaut Joins Crew on Mir


France's first woman in space docked with Russia's orbiting Mir space station Monday, mission control said.

The Soyuz-U rocket, carrying French scientist Claudie Andre-Deshays and Russians Valery Korzun and Alexander Kalery, docked with the orbiter at 6:50 p.m. as planned, a mission control official said by telephone.

The rocket took off as scheduled from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday for a 16-day scientific mission aboard Mir.

The crew will join two Russians and American astronaut Shannon Lucid on the orbiting station, which was launched in February 1986 and which has been manned permanently ever since.

Saturday's launch had been delayed twice because of problems with a booster rocket taking supplies to Mir.

"We were tense, for there are always big risks,'' said Gerard Riviere, assistant general director for the French space agency, which monitored the launch from its headquarters in the southern city of Toulouse.

Riviere praised the Russians for a flawless launch. "As usual with the Russian flights, everything went as planned, nearly to the second,'' he said. The French were starry-eyed Saturday over France's first woman to soar in space. Andre-Deshays' picture was splashed all over the front pages of the Paris dailies.

"I can't wait to see if you really do feel like a bird,'' she told Le Figaro.

French television carried the launch live, showing a smiling Andre-Deshays, 39, strapped in the cockpit, a small teddy bear dangling from a line in front of the control panel.

"We have all admired Claudie's professionalism, calm and smile. It proves that she's not only perfectly trained, but an exceptional woman as well,'' Riviere said.

This joint mission, however, may be France's last as it shifts its focus to long-term missions, the nation's space program chief says.

Space Minister Francois Fillon told the Paris daily Le Figaro in Monday's edition that France wants to shift away from the kind of mission that put Andre-Deshays in orbit.

"Short-term flights, as they've been carried out up to now with the Russians, appear over,'' Fillon said. "It's now necessary to prepare our future astronauts for long-term missions that will take place on the future international space station Alpha.''

Le Figaro said two other Franco-Russian missions scheduled for 1998 and 1999 now run the risk of being cancelled, though the missions are still being discussed with the Russian space agency. Fillon said France's national space center wants to shift the focus to missions that last six months or more. Andre-Deshays will stay aloft just 14 days before returning to Earth with Russian cosmonauts Yury Onufrienko and Yury Usachev.