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Astronauts long for "Mir' keepsakes

When Mir plunges into the Pacific next week, more than metal will rain down in flames. Lots more.

Like Shannon Lucid's books, all 100 of them. Michael Foale's running shoes. Andrew Thomas' nail file. Norman Thagard's spare uniform.

The American astronauts who lived aboard the Russian space station wish they could salvage some of the things they left behind, as well as some Russian items and even pieces of the 15-year-old spacecraft itself.

Thomas said Friday from the international space station that if he could, he would bring back the picture of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, that hangs above Mir's galley.

Another picture has hung up there for years, but Mir's first American resident, Thagard, is not sure it's worth saving.

"It was almost a pornographic sort of thing that was hanging from the toilet . . . one of those that would probably be offensive to some women," he recalled from Tallahassee, where he is an electronics professor at Florida State University.

The X-rated drawing _ and Gagarin's portrait and a Russian icon _ will join Lucid's library for what she calls "the ultimate book burning." Russian space officials are targeting next Thursday for Mir's fiery finale.

Lucid's books were gifts from her daughters. They were mostly used, half-price paperbacks.

Lucid neatly arranged the books on makeshift shelves during her six-month stay in 1996, which remains a U.S. space endurance record. But the books were inside Spektr, a section of Mir that was ruptured by a runaway cargo ship in 1997 and had to be sealed off.

"I really felt sort of bad when they had to close Spektr off because that's where all my books were," said Lucid, who is working at Mission Control for the current shuttle mission. "I liked the thought of leaving a library up in space."

The locked-up Spektr also contains Foale's personal belongings. His running shoes and clothes, and even his toothbrush, were inside when the collision occurred.

Altogether, seven Americans took turns living aboard Mir from 1995 through 1998. In addition to Lucid, Foale, Thomas and Thagard, they include David Wolf, John Blaha and Jerry Linenger.

Linenger, who helped battle a severe fire aboard Mir in 1997, said he would save the window where he gazed out at the heavens.

"It's pretty symbolic of what Mir really was," he said from Suttons Bay, Mich., where he now lives. "You see the heavens above. You see the stars, sort of the future out there. . . . That was a time when you could look out, sort of reflect on the big picture."

Thomas would not mind salvaging Mir's galley. It provided sustenance, even though some of the Russian cuisine, like fish aspic, did not exactly go down easy.

Thagard would settle for his unused blue uniform and Mir's toilet.

"When I give presentations, one of the questions you get asked, especially by kids, is: "What are space toilets like?' " he said. "It would be actually not a bad display item."