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The Shuttle-Mir Program grew out of a Cold War space race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Both NASA's and the Russian space program's pilots had military backgrounds, and several of them had trained to fight each other, during a possible confrontation.
In his Oral History, U.S. Mir astronaut Norman Thagard says, "I thought it was extremely ironic, because when I was flying missions in Vietnam in 1969 as an F-4 pilot, I thought that there was an excellent chance that at some point in time I'd have interactions with the Russians, but I thought it would be of a somewhat different nature than they turned out. If anyone in 1969 had ever told me that I would wind up having a captain in the Russian force as a commander, I would have said, 'You're crazy.'"
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Profile: Norman Thagard
Norm Thagard Oral History (PDF)
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Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty