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In his Oral History, U.S. Mir astronaut Michael Foale talks about the look and feel of both the space station Mir and the space shuttle.
Foale says, "I've seen [Mir] twice from afar. The first time was like seeing the Great Wall of China or something, from a distance. . . . You don't relate to it. . . . It's like being a tourist in a bus tour.
"We flew around it on STS-63. We saw these people on it . . . [There were] Elena [Kondakova] and these two kind of crazy guys waving to us, all excited. We didn't understand each other very well at all. I [didn't] know Russian well. But we had Vladimir Titov onboard, who could speak with them. We lingered there for about three hours. They invited us to tea. . . . "
Foale says that, later, on STS-84, "as we got very close and docked, [Mir] looked overall in better condition physically than I had imagined. . . . I was expecting worse and saw something better. . . . I saw brighter, more cheerful objects, more visible things, than kind of the dull cellar-like impression I'd had in my mind.
"I've mentioned this about space shuttle flight, too. Before my first space shuttle flight, I always thought getting into a shuttle would be like getting into a dark, gloomy place and having trouble reading the displays, because it's so dark and kind of gloomy. [However,] real shuttle flight is not like that. It's like being on the 737 flight deck -- light gray, sun streaming in through the windows -- and it's great and there's blue sky. It was the same kind of contrast from what I expected, and then what I actually saw [of Mir]."
Foale describes the Mir living area. "I was pleasantly surprised at the cheerfulness of the atmosphere there. It was kind of a warm, welcoming, cozy place, in spite of the masses of cables and equipment and wires that are on the walls. Nonetheless, it looked like a home. So that impression was kind of a mix of feelings, but colored also by previous experience."
Mir Space Station
Profile: Michael Foale
Michael Foale Oral History (PDF)
Descriptions of Mir
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Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty