Six years later, during a brief thaw in the cold war, he found himself training in Houston with Americans, larking around in a Stetson like a cowboy. On the joint Soyuz-Apollo Test Project that followed he and Tom Stafford bear-hugged in the docking tunnel between their craft, the first international handshake in space.
Later he and his new friends, whom he kept for life, drank each other's health in borscht which he had led them to believe was vodka. Space was not a place where men should be anything but brothers. Whenever he had time, from his first training into his retirement, he painted at his easel. Two subjects in particular he kept returning to. One was the air crash in 1968 that killed Gagarin, which he later officially investigated. He had been among the first to get to that awful scene of wreckage and snow, with the tops of the birch trees torn off by the impact. He had had to identify his friend's body. Death had never seemed closer, or so terrible.
Yet so far as there could be comfort, it came from his other constant subject, his walk in space. Beside the lovingly rendered module he floated again, sometimes with his hands out like an explorer, sometimes simply swimming, with his tether slack around him. Beyond him the sun blazed, a spotlight with a star's red aura round it; behind and below him lay Earth's blue. It was straight-out-of-the-tube blue, improbably bright. But that was what he had seen—and seen directly, out in empty space.