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Thomas Settles into Life Back Aboard US Spacecraft

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SPACE CENTER, HOUSTON — Astronaut Andrew Thomas settled in today for the ride home aboard space shuttle Discovery after a four-month stay as the last American to live on Mir.

Thomas, who slept aboard the shuttle after it successfully docked with the Russian space station Thursday, was roused by Mission Control this morning with an Australian melody. The 46-year-old engineer was born in Australia.

``A special good morning to the South Australia native on board,'' Mission Control told the crew.

``Thanks for the wake-up music,'' Thomas responded. ``It's good to be aboard the shuttle.''

Thomas moved into his new home after Discovery and Mir linked up in what is America's last visit to the aging space station.

The spacecraft will be linked until Monday, allowing the two crews to deliver water, food and other supplies to Mir and move Thomas' experiments and other gear into Discovery.

By early today, the crews had transferred 62 gallons of water to Mir, along with some flight data files.

In addition, Discovery's Russian crew member, Valery Ryumin, will inspect the 12-year-old outpost and Discovery's astronauts might also try to fix a shuttle communication system that is supposed to transmit TV images to Earth. NASA engineers are still trying to solve the problem.

If all goes well, Discovery will return Thomas to Earth next Friday.

After spending 130 days aboard Mir, Thomas was overjoyed when his ride home finally arrived.

``You can't imagine how wonderful it was to look out the window ... and see a bright point of light across on the horizon, which I knew to be the shuttle,'' Thomas said after the docking and the hatches had swung open. Smiling broadly, he embraced his colleagues one by one as they floated in to greet him.

``It's really a wonderful moment for me,'' he gushed.

With the exception of a last weekend's failure with Mir's automatic steering system, Thomas' stay was uneventful compared to those of some of his six American predecessors.

Last year, there was a fire aboard Mir and the station also was ruptured in a collision with a cargo ship.

Thursday's docking was the ninth in the three years Americans have been visiting the space station. The next time U.S. and Russian spacecraft meet will be at the end of the year, when assembly begins in orbit on the international space station.

``Just as when you see two old friends when they first meet and they shake hands and embrace each other, I think you've seen two old friends meet in space, the shuttle and Mir,'' NASA flight director Chuck Shaw said.

(Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-06-05-98 0459EDT

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