Homesick Mir astronaut falls back to Earth

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The Independent Online
You have to feel for David Wolf. For the past four months he has been orbiting the earth with just two Russian cosmonauts for company, so it was only natural he'd be feeling a little homesick.

But last night Mr Wolf was preparing to return home to earth after swapping places with a replacement astronaut. This weekend as the space shuttle Endeavour docked with the space station Mir, the 41-year-old American somersaulted in the gravity-free capsule and gushed over the radio to astronaut Bonnie Dunbar.

He might have been 244 miles above the earth but he was still capable of a smart line. "These guys are OK, but you're an awful lot prettier," he said. "It's just amazing to see you all again up here. It really hits me harder than I ever expected it would.

"Thanks for coming to get me. Although I could have lived fine a lot longer ... there's a lot of fun and good business to be done on Earth. It's time to go back, I think."

As Endeavour approached Mir, Mr Wolf talked to its crew on the radio. "How's the flight been so far?" he asked.

The crew joked that Mr Wolf's replacement, fellow NASA astronaut Andy Thomas, had forgotten his suitcase and would have to go home to get it.

The docking of the two craft, which happened above the western edge of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, was not without incident. Because of an error over the configuration of the air locks there was a small loss of pressure, something which did not impress the Russians. After the docking, the crews met for a reunion party, the sounds of which were broadcast across the universe as the astronauts ignored Mission Control's repeated requests for their attention.