Shuttle-Mir Stories

Astronaut Andy Thomas inside Mir's core node.

Thomas "First Days on Mir"

During his stay on the space station Mir, U.S. astronaut Andy Thomas published several "Letter from the Outpost," to family and frineds on earth. Here is one of them.

"The First Days on Mir," by Andy Thomas, April 1998

After the departure of the shuttle, I began to set up home in Mir. The Priroda module, meaning 'nature' in Russian, is the most recently built of all the modules and is used for environmental monitoring of conditions on the surface of the Earth. It also housed most of the equipment that I was to operate, so it seemed only logical to make it my home. I unpacked those items that I thought I would be needing on a fairly immediate basis. I was able to set up a computer, and access the array of informational and recreational CD ROMs that NASA had provided for me. Ifound the bag containing all the books I had chosen to take with me, as well as music cassettes and CDs, plus all the stationary supplies, and personal hygiene items I had brought along.

As I was unpacking and stowing all of these things, I came up against the one thing that makes space flight both interesting and, at the same time, very frustrating, namely zero gravity. It can be a joy to experience, but also can really make your work day difficult. The most frustrating thing is that you are forever losing things. You might be rummaging through a bag to find one item, while all the other contents are floating away, and before you know it, they are gone, and lost. They may even be close by to you, but as you look around you tend to focus your gaze only on surfaces, where we are accustomed to seeing things, and not look at the empty space just in front of us. In zero-g you have to learn to change this behavior. So it is inevitable that as you adjust to the environment of weightlessness you lose things and are always having to pay attention to tether, or velcro everything down. Items like pens and pencils are a particular problem, so I brought plenty of them along.

It was not too long before I had a reasonably comfortable habitation area set up in Priroda, keeping in mind that I was on a space station, and I was able to start the scientific program. I needed to get established fairly quickly because the Mir-25 crew, Talgat Mysabayev and Nicolai Budarin, were due to arrive in their Soyuz, along with French cosmonaut Leopold Eyharts. Although they would ultimately replace the Mir-24 crew, we would be conducting joint operations for a while and I knew that we would need all the work space that we could find.

Their Soyuz appeared over the horizon, first as a small point of light, that slowly grew to its identifiable shape with its attached habitation module and protruding solar panels. We could watch their final approach on a monitor, and could feel a slight bump as they docked to the station. Some time later, after the checks of the integrity of all the seals between the vehicles, we opened the hatch and welcomed them aboard. It was strange to see them all again here in orbit, as I had not seen them since I left Star City back in early December.

We spent the next three weeks working together onboard the station. This was not easy, as work space and stowage space was very limited, but we all knew that it was temporary, and that we were able to overcome the obstacles.

After three weeks it was time for the Mir-25 crew to assume operations of the station, and for the Mir-24 crew, who had arrived on orbit last August, to leave. Leopold returned with them. They had spent some days preparing their capsule for the journey, and checking its flight control system, and when all was in order, they climbed in and closed the hatch and undocked a short time later. The view from the window of the Priroda module was impressive as we watched the capsule pull away from the station and slowly drift out of sight. Within a couple of hours we heard that they had landed safely in Kazakhstan and that all was well.

With their departure, we were now able to settle in to day-to-day operations and establish a daily routine that was to carry us through the next three months. I will describe what a typical day is like on the station in the next report.

Related Links:
Life on Mir
Thomas Increment
Profile: Andy Thomas
Thomas' "Letters from the Outpost"
Andy Thomas Oral History (PDF)

 

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