WASHINGTON -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin presented U.S. astronaut John Blaha with one of the Russian Federation's highest awards Wednesday for his efforts aboard the Russian space station Mir.
"If somebody had told us 10 years ago that Russian and American astronauts would be flying together in space, one would have deemed it science fiction," Chernomyrdin said in giving the Friendship Award to Blaha and former astronaut Jerry Linenger, who was not able to attend the ceremony.
The award, given to the astronauts for "their contribution to the development of the Russian-U.S. cooperation in space exploration," was announced amid American concern that Mir is not safe for space travel. Both men were aboard Mir for over four months, and Linenger was almost forced to abandon the station because of a fire onboard.
Vice President Al Gore attended the ceremony at the Russian Embassy and credited the co-chairs of the program, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin and Russian Gen. Yuri Glazkov, for their "imagination, creativity and determination to make this mission a reality."
Blaha accepted the award in Russian, saying the program "opened a bigger window than in just space ..., a window between our two countries."