Maryland stays itself for Soviet cosmonaut His nation vanished during last launch


STEVENSVILLE -- For pilot Louise "Bug" Mead, yesterday's fun-filled flight over the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore will be remembered for more than aeronautical thrills.

It isn't every day that a flight instructor like Ms. Mead becomes co-pilot to a cosmonaut.

Cosmonaut 3rd Class Sergei Krikalev -- the so-called lost-in-time cosmonaut who blasted off from the Soviet Union one day and returned 10 months later to a politically, economically and geographically changed country -- joined Ms. Mead in a Seneca twin-engine plane.

"In my logbook, this will be a very special afternoon," the Annapolis resident said.

Mr. Krikalev is visiting the United States to attend an international conference of space travelers this week in Washington.

"It is not possible to tell you in just a few words about being in space," he said through an interpreter. "The most impressive thing is the outlook from outer space."

The cosmonaut met up with Ms. Mead through a mutual friend, Yuri Karash, a doctoral student in space policy at American University.

Ms. Mead and Mike Forster, operators of Bay Bridge Aviation on Kent Island, have been working with Mr. Karash, who also has trained as a cosmonaut, about the possibilities of reopening former Soviet aviation factories to build aircraft for U.S. and European fliers.

"They have empty factories and unemployed workers," Ms. Mead said, noting that the fleet of non-commercial U.S. and European planes is aging. "We could use their frames with American motors. We need to get with the Russians to come up with terms and prices."

But yesterday the emphasis was clearly on fun.

Dressed in blue jeans and a golf shirt, Mr. Krikalev, 33, lunched at the Kent Manor Inn and Restaurant in Stevensville, where, by the way, he passed on the crab cakes.

He told his American friends that a favorite activity among cosmonauts -- when they weren't busy with experiments or other space-related endeavors -- was to peer out portholes to Earth.

It is an indescribable view, he said. The Chesapeake Bay, for instance, looked much different from a space station than it did from the small airplane he flew with Ms. Mead and her friends, he said.

Besides being a cosmonaut, Mr. Krikalev is a world-class aerobatic pilot. He and Mr. Karash are active in aero clubs in Moscow.

"He's really just a very quiet guy," Mr. Karash said.

Since returning to the former Soviet Union in late March, Mr. Krikalev has spent months in quarantine and getting reacclimated to Earth.

Although he was dubbed the lost-in-time cosmonaut, caught in space between changing governments in the former Soviet Union, Mr. Krikalev said the space mission was never out of control.

"They could have brought me down to the ground any time they wanted," he said. "They could have brought me down in just a few hours. I never felt stranded."

Mr. Krikalev said he chose to remain in space because it was his duty. A prospective replacement, he said, was not fully prepared for the mission.

"I didn't have any doubts about coming back," he said.

And Nancy Graux of Stevensville didn't have any doubts about Mr. Krikalev's flying abilities yesterday.

"I don't like to fly, but I was extremely relaxed with Sergei as the pilot," said Ms. Graux, who along with her husband, Yves, are hair stylists for the White House.

"It was unbelievable to fly with a cosmonaut," Mr. Graux said. "Of course, it's something we will always remember."

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