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Shuttle Flights & Mir Increments - Linenger Increment: A Spacewalk and a Fire

Jerry Linenger launched with space shuttle mission STS-81 on January 12, 1997, to replace U.S. Mir astronaut John Blaha. He remained on Mir until he returned with STS-84 on May 24, 1997, after a total of 132 days in orbit -- the longest duration flight of an American male to date. Linenger joined Russian Mir-22 crewmembers Valeri Korzun and Alexander Kaleri, who stayed onboard Mir until after the Mir-23 crew of Vasily Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin arrived with German astronaut Reinhold Ewald. Ewald and the Mir-22 crew returned to Earth onboard a Soyuz on March 2, 1997.

Linenger became the first American to conduct a spacewalk from a foreign space station and in a non-American made spacesuit. During the five-hour walk, he and Tsibliev performed the first test of the Russian-built Orlan-M spacesuit, installed the Optical Properties Monitor (OPM) and Benton dosimeter on the outer surface of the station, and retrieved for analysis on Earth several externally-mounted material-exposure panels. All three crewmembers also performed a "fly-around" in the Soyuz spacecraft, first undocking from one docking port of the station, then manually flying to and redocking the capsule at a different location. This made Linenger the first American to undock from a space station aboard two different spacecraft (space shuttle and Soyuz).

Linenger and his Russian crewmates faced several difficulties including: the most severe fire ever aboard an orbiting spacecraft; failures of onboard systems (oxygen generators, carbon dioxide scrubbing, cooling line loop leaks, communication antenna tracking ability, urine collection and processing facility); a near collision with a resupply cargo ship during a manual docking system test; loss of station electrical power; and loss of attitude control, resulting in a slow, uncontrolled "tumble" through space.

In spite of these challenges and the added demands on their time, they still accomplished all the mission's goals, including all of the planned U.S. science experiments. The experiments conducted during this increment were in the areas of: medicine (humoral immunity, sleep monitoring, radiation dosimetry); physiology (spatial orientation/performance changes during long duration flight); epidemiology (microbial surface sampling); metallurgy (determination of metal diffusion coefficients); oceanography/geology/limnology/physical science, with over 10,000 photos of the planet; space science (flame propagation); and microgravity science (behavior of fluids, critical angle determination).

Astronaut Brent Jett, STS-81 pilot, spoke in his Oral History about leaving Jerry Linenger onboard Mir: "... by the time we left, [Jerry] seemed real comfortable over in the Mir. I knew he was going to do a really, really great job, and he's a very disciplined person, and I knew he would have a great mission. I was kind of sad to be leaving him. I knew I would see him again and I knew I'd see the cosmonauts again, but, you know, kind of seeing Jerry on the other side of the hatch when we closed it, I was thinking that he is now part of a Russian crew, and he won't be, except for video links and audio links, won't be really able to talk to his friends. I knew he was facing something like we face in the military when we go on deployment, but at least we have probably a lot closer friends than he was being left with. And, of course, I had no idea that he would go through a very critical situation like he had with the fire."

The residency of an American astronaut aboard the Russian space station continued with NASA Astronaut Michael Foale.

Related Links:
Profile: Jerry Linenger
Ops Lead Anthony Sang Oral History (PDF)
The Fire: News Release
Culbertson on the Fire
Video: Mir-22/23 (Linenger/fire)
Video:Linenger Fire Description
Science
Linenger's Letters to His Son
Video: STS-81 (docking/Linenger farewell)
Video: Linenger EVA
Video: STS-84 (launch/dock/hatch open)
Video: STS-84/Mir23 Crew Meal
Video: Linenger/Foale Greenhouse
STS-81
STS-84

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty