Linenger's Letters to his Son

March 4, 1997
Life in space is never monotonous"

Dear John:

You would think life on a space station would get monotonous--but so far, the opposite is true.

New experiments daily. The undocking of our "Progress" supply vehicle. Climbing into our launch and entry spacesuits and flying the Soyuz spaceship to a different node. The arrival of the new crew. A fire to get your adrenaline flowing. The departure of my first set of Russian crewmates. And today our "Progress" supply ship, now still full of our old garbage, returned . Sorta.

Two reasons for bringing the garbage back. First, the uncovered docking ring gets direct sunshine. Makes thermal control on the station a bit trickier, plus small but fast moving particles in space strike it directly; slowly but surely wearing it out. Better to keep it covered.

The second reason-- to do some testing of a manual approach system. A cosmonaut stands inside the space station with a control panel, TV screen, and two joysticks and "drives" the Progress vehicle in. The view he sees on the TV monitor is a view from a camera on the approaching vehicle; so that he sees the docking node on the space station (on the TV screen) as if he were in the vehicle itself. That's how we were set up today.

Before, it was all done automatically--using sensors on the Progress. But those sensors take up room and have weight--so that if you could do without them, you could load more cargo aboard.

The ground sent up radio commands to the vehicle steering it in our general direction. Their goal was to get it close; the space station commander's job--to pick up control, and steer it to the exact spot we want it--at the node. In between, the vehicle is on its own--no one controlling.

Today, we were unable to dock it because our TV view wasn't so great. The smart people down at mission control in Moscow will figure out the problem and we'll probably give it another try. Maybe it is for the best--I would not want to open that hatch to inhale the smell of month old garbage!

Anyway, like I said--life in space is never monotonous. I'd go for some boring times right now! Think that I will take up fishing when I get home.

I still worry more about you, you little hooligan! Crawling up and down those stairs, falling down, putting everything you can find into your mouth. Mommy has a full time job with you, no doubt.

Speaking of Mommy--will you tell her that I love her, and miss her, and appreciate all that she is doing--alone--down there? Geez, she even got stuck doing the dreaded taxes this year. She is an angel.

Love you John. Praying that you will sleep safe and sound tonight. Mommy, too.


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