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Mission to Mir

At the start of a new partnership, U.S. and Russian space travelers learn that every long journey begins with a single step.

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One of the Russian habits Ward admires and would like to see Americans imitate is swift decision-making. "If someone here proposes a change in a program and it makes sense, a couple days later you see it in the conspects [the booklets that delineate every procedure]," he says. "In NASA too many people have a voice in change. The same proposal can take months and often gets so bogged down in review process that even the simplest changes never make it."

Regardless of the differences between the Russian and U.S. space programs, there is at least one overriding similarity of purpose. All of the long-duration studies, the plans for construction of an international space station, the biomedical experimentation, and the new attempt at partnership are aimed at getting to Mars. In an odd twist for a country that at one time had so many secrets, the Russians have been more explicit about this goal than the Americans. For decades the slogan of the Soviet space program has been "On to Mars." "Russian people and a lot of the Americans really feel that our best business is to get off the Earth, get to the moon, and go on to Mars," says Ken Cameron.

Hurrying after Thagard one day as he hustled from one class to the next, I asked about his philosophical projections--what he thinks his mission means in a larger context. Will it lead to an expansion of the human habitat? Will we one day go to Mars and beyond?

"I can't think that far ahead," he answered, his unfaltering footsteps echoing in the long hallway. "I can only think about this mission. We're studying life science, learning more about the human organism in microgravity. The engineering and navigation to get to Mars we can do." Thagard slowed his pace, nodded his head deeply three times, and said, "Incrementally, inevitably, we'll keep going out there."

Originally published in Air & Space/Smithsonian, February/March 1995. Copyright 1995, Smithsonian Institution. All Rights Reserved.

 

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