Astronaut Michael Foale spent much of his Mir mission trying to console his distressed Russian commander and reassure him that the nearly catastrophic collision wasn't all his fault and that being banned from spacewalking wasn't so awful.
In his first news conference since returning to Earth early this month, Foale described his Russian crewmates as misunderstood heroes and recalled his attempts to cheer up commander Vasily Tsibliyev, who assumed - correctly - that some of his countrymen would blame him for the crash.Tsibliyev was guiding a cargo ship by remote control in a docking test when it slammed into the Russian space station on June 25, piercing the hull of the pressurized Mir and cutting power by half.
It was the worst space wreck ever.
"What Vasily felt would happen was, because he was the person at the controls when the accident happened, it would be simplest for organizations that did not want to accept responsibility just to blame him. And he believed that in the past, in Russia's history, this has occurred," Foale said Wednesday.
"We know that many, many people were involved in the decision to do this test, and it turned out to be a great mistake. We tried very hard to convince him that he should not be judged so harshly."
Foale said Tsibliyev simply did not have enough navigation information at his disposal.