In his Oral History, the last U.S. Mir astronaut talks about the value of the Shuttle-Mir Program.
When asked whether the program accomplished all it set out to do, Thomas says, "Yes, I think so -- in spades and more, perhaps. The Shuttle-Mir Program has taken a lot of criticism ... particularly last year with the problems that Mir was facing [e.g., the fire, the collision, and several malfunctions]. Perhaps some of those criticisms are justified, but I think you need to step back and look at this program and this [Russian-American] collaboration."
Thomas looks back on history. "In fact, if you even go back forty years ago, when NASA was formed, [you'll see that] NASA was formed because there was a space race ... between Russia and the U.S. in the Cold War, and the role of this agency was to represent the U.S. interests in going into space, and it was definitely in competition with the Russians.
"Well, the Cold War is over. I think one of the great geopolitical and social events of the twentieth century history will show will be the ending of the Cold War and the peaceful demise of Communism in the Soviet Bloc countries. I think that's just an extraordinary historical event to contemplate.
"And it is equally amazing that over the course of that, that spirit of competition that existed for forty years has evolved smoothly into a spirit of cooperation, and the Shuttle-Mir Program was the instrument of doing that...
Then he looks toward the future. "...Just looking at the Phase 1 Program by itself, though... It's ... given us experience on operating and living on a day-to-day basis in an orbiting space station, which we didn't have. It's taught us how to resupply a space station, how to bring crewpersons up, how to change our crews, how to train crews for these missions. It's taught us how to fly a shuttle up to a space station and dock with it and do all of these exchanges. These are not trivial problems, by any means.
"So we've learned a lot from doing that, and I think that information is going to be of profound importance as we do the International Space Station. I actually think it's inconceivable to think that we could have even attempted an International Space Station without the Shuttle-Mir lessons-learned program that we have now."
Profile: Andy Thomas
Andy Thomas Oral History (PDF)
Benefits of Shuttle-Mir
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