Linenger's Letters to his Son

February 6, 1997
"
An unforgiving place"

Dear John:

Wow, what a day. Busy, busy, busy. Almost as bad as when Mommy goes into Moscow to pick up groceries and I have the "duty" chasing you around. At least you clonk out for an hour or so. And I can recover. Up here its non-stop work. Writing you is my moment of peace.

The garbage truck left today. Called Progress, it arrives with all kinds of goodies. Letters from home, fresh food, and new clothes being the highlight; but mainly filled with fuel, water, and needed equipment to keep the space station running. Comes up unmanned. Automatic docking. All commands radioed up from the control center in Moscow.

An almost identical docking system is used on the manned capsule. Called Soyuz. Brought up my two present Russian crewmates almost five months ago, and in a week will bring up their replacements; my future crewmates. I'll be going home on Shuttle when it docks in May.

Oh, the garbage truck. After it is unloaded, we start filling it up with stuff. Old broken equipment. Toilet (waste) holding tanks. Dirty clothes. It undocked today, and by tomorrow will be disintegrating as it re-enters the atmosphere. I sat right in front of the hatch from where it departed today. Felt and heard the springs pushing it away. Looked out a tiny window by the hatch and saw its three lights backing away. Stable and slow. Then the thrusters.

Tomorrow we go for a ride. Into our spacesuits and into our "car"--the Soyuz capsule. We will undock from the port at one end of the station, drive over to where the garbage truck was, and dock again. We will then check that we have a good seal between the space station and us. Open a couple of doors and it's "home, sweet, home" again.

The reason? We want the "fresh" Soyuz (the one launching next week) to park in the place we were. Plus, the port that we are docking at is pretty old (ten years or so) and it's best not to leave it open to the bombardment of space "stuff".

Everything will be fine. But space is the frontier, an unforgiving place.

For example: should we undock successfully but are unable to re-dock, the only option is to head home. Only so much oxygen and fuel onboard. Fiery re-entry, capsule under parachute, and then plopping down rather hard in the desert in Kazakhstan. Without my passport. That might be the worst part of it!

You can sit here and think of lots of possible scenarios. Say...a control thruster fails. Or the docking mechanism doesn't hold us tight enough together to get a good seal. Anyone who has tried to fix a leaky faucet knows how difficult it is to get a watertight "not tight enough" or "too tight"--and drip, drip, drip. Well, airtight is tougher; and a leak means we lose all our breathing air to the vacuum of space should we open the hatch.

Anyway, everything will be fine. And it will be another grand adventure.

Hope your adventures around the hall, through the kitchen, and into the living room; opening every drawer in sight, unhooking every reachable telephone, and banging every pot and pan; are as enjoyable.

Goodnight, my little adventurer. Give Mommy one of those little kisses of yours for me. Thanks.

Love you,
Dad.

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