Linenger's Letters to his Son

March 18, 1997
"
Early explorers never talked to their loved ones"

Dear John:

Sorta talked to Mommy on Sunday. At least I heard her voice a few times.

We move fast. The station rotates. The antenna is not always aligned. Only a few ground stations are open. The public Russian phone system is outdated. Our transmitter that aims at a satellite is broken. Combine all of that, and the chance of me having a normal conversation with Kathryn adds up to about zero. We've averaged less than 5 minutes of intelligible conversation a month.

Early explorers never talked to their loved ones. Sometimes, if they were lucky, they would receive three-month old letters by boat. Mail call on U.S. Navy ships is still a big deal--though E-mail is rapidly taking over. So it can be done.

The problem is really one of expectation. You read "private family conference--bort engineer II (that's me) " on the schedule. You set your wristwatch alarm. You look forward to hearing Mommy's voice, her laugh. And, of course, the John-report--what you are up to. When the time comes, you hear static and an occasional word or two. Usually, a very distant "Jerry, do you hear me?"

You come away feeling worse off, a bit lonely, and somewhat cheated. No one's fault, but it hurts you none-the-less. And Mommy, too, I suspect.

Everyone asks about lonliness, about how you cope with being alone and in space for five months.

You prepare yourself for it. I did a little test. On Jan 1st, a year ago, I said: okay, pretend you are in space. In May, I said, okay, you're back home again. It was a long time. John, you changed tremendously over those five months, and I really, really enjoyed watching you go from baby to toddler.

I work long, long hours everyday. Gives you a great sense of accomplishment, of achievement. You feel worn. You feel like you are doing something for your country; and I say that very sincerely. It feels good. You don't whine, you don't sit in a corner and tell yourself how misirable it is without pretzels, without trees. No, you carry on.

When I think of you, Mommy, and other loved ones--it gives me a good feeling. When I fly by your picture on the wall, and see your smile, it makes me happier. I write you because it brings you to me; me to you and Mommy. I relax a bit, feel content, and look forward to return. Thoughts of home are good thoughts--not a preoccupation.

Anyway, we are luckier than the early explorers--my letters get through in a week or so. I know Mommy cares for me, misses me; don't really need to hear the words. I have thought to draw on when I need it. Hopefully, she feels the same way. She is very special.

Love you, John. Pleasant dreams. I'll be thinking of you and watching over you.

Dad.

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