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RIP VAN WINKLE AS COSMONAUT

With all the upheaval in what used to be the Soviet Union, Mir cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov, originally due back on terra firma in October, was "asked" to extend his stay aboard the space station. Finally, after 10 months in orbit, he came down this week. Compared with the changes that greeted Krikalyov, Rip van Winkle took a cat nap.

Krikalyov left a mighty union; he returned to a sovereign nation that last existed before his birth.The map he took up with him said Leningrad; the road signs now read "Welcome to St. Petersburg."

Where statues of Bolshevik heroes once stood, there are unobstructed views.

His children may be learning more about Moses than Marx.

As for prices, he will find that Mir isn't alone in the stratosphere.

He may meet small groups of angry and impotent dissidents. They will be called communists.

The irony is that Krikalyov probably will more keenly appreciate the new world than most people who have lived every day in it. We in America, for example, haven't wildly celebrated the end of the era of menace. But as the warheads and words are both defused, you don't have to come down from space to know that a better day has dawned.