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Russia's President Hails ISS Crew on Spaceflight Anniversary

Russia's President Hails ISS Crew on Spaceflight Anniversary
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, back to camera, speaks during a live televised hookup with the International Space Station marking 45th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight to space in Moscow's Kremlin on Wednesday, April 12, 2006. Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams, left, are on the screen. (Image credit: AP Photo/ Misha Japaridze.)

MOSCOW (AP) - RussianPresident Vladimir Putin chatted Wednesday with the U.S.-Russiancrew on the International Space Station via a televised hookup marking the 45th anniversaryof Yuri Gagarin's flight to space, wishing them a successful mission andhailing international cooperation in the cosmos.

"It is a pleasure to seethat representatives of Russia and the United States are working together onthe same platform, the International Space Station,'' Putin told Russiancosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams as Russia markedCosmonauts Day, marking Gagarin's pioneering orbit around the Earth on April12, 1961.

Putin asked Williamsthrough an interpreter how the Russian Soyuz spacecraft compares to the U.S.shuttle.

Williams answered him inRussian, saying he liked both ships.

"Soyuz is a very good ship,but flying the shuttle, of course, is also very interesting,'' Williams said. "Theycomplement each other.''

The American space programhas depended on the Russians for cargo and astronaut delivery since theFebruary 2003 Columbia disastergrounded the shuttle fleet. The shuttle Discovery visited the station last July but problems with theexternalfuel tank's foam insulation have cast doubt on when shuttles might returnto flight.

Vinogradov thanked Putin onbehalf of the crew, saying his support for the space research was veryimportant. "It's important not only for us cosmonauts, but for scientists andexperts as well,'' he said.

Vinogradov jokingly invitedPutin to visit the station.

"I would like to inviteVladimir Vladimirovich to visit us. He has been out to sea in a submarine, haslearned how to operate strategic aircraft and feels at home in the Su-27fighter,'' Vinogradov said in reference to Putin taking the co-pilot seats in aSu-27 fighter and a Tu-160 strategic bomber and watching naval maneuvers from anuclear submarine.

"Maybe during vacation,''Putin answered.

Vinogradov and Williams arrivedat the station on April 1 together with Brazil's first astronaut, MarcosPontes, who spent a week in orbit and returnedto Earth on Sunday with the station's previous crew, Russian Valery Tokarev andAmerican Bill McArthur.

Putin also spoke withPontes, Tokarev and McArthur via a televised hookup with the Star Citycosmonauts' training center, where they are undergoing post-flightrehabilitation. He congratulated the Brazilian on his mission.

"That was a big even notonly for Brazil, but for the entire space community,'' Putin said. "Anotherpowerful nation has joined the countries exploring space, and it will bring asignificant contribution to common efforts.''

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