March 2, 1997
Well, the Earth got a bit more crowded today: my two cosmonaut former crewmates and the German researcher safely returned. You never know who will be dropping in. They had a good landing in Kazakstan within 800 meters of their target, and will be back in Star City and into quarantine by supper time. I'm very happy for them and their families.
And in space on the space station, we're back to three people again.
We all said good-bye at about two in the morning, then said good-bye again for the cameras at three. The hugs, warm-felt thanks, and good wishes were sincere both times.
When it departed, within the station I felt nothing. Not even a gentle nudge. I had some acceleration sensing devices running at the time, so that the scientists will be able to quantify the push off--but the effect was below the threshold of my human sensors. Less disturbance to the station than when someone runs on the treadmill, or a solar panel rotates (the solar panels rotate in order to catch the sun 'full on'-- and when I'm strapped to the wall trying to fall asleep, I can feel a very low frequency vibration (whoa, whoa, whoa) on my back).
My visual sensors (also commonly called eyes, but I'm trying to sound like an astronaut!) did catch them, about ten minutes after undocking. Space was dark black in the background, but the Soyuz capsule was lit up brilliantly by the rays of the sun.
We fly high enough that we still "catch rays" up here on station, while on the Earth below it is already dark. (That's why if you know when to look, you can easily see us zipping through the sky, looking like a shooting star, near dawn and dusk, from your vantage point on Earth.) During this particular time, Soyuz was lit up for at least ten minutes, while the crescent of light around the Earth as the sun set could be seen for even longer--though dimmer and dimmer every minute. I was surprised that I could still see the Soyuz through a 300mm lens even when the background turned to stars and the sunset crescent disappeared. And I don't mean running lights (which I did not see--if they were on at all)--but the glow of the vehicle itself. Orion's belt right smack behind it. I held steady on the camera and breathed ever so quietly, because with any movement whatsoever, the image would 'jump' from view. I knew that if I lost them I would be unable to spot them again.
At that point, all distinct features were lost. In form, it looked exactly like a glowing, three-dimensional crucifix, slowly rotating into different orientations. Solar panels probably the arms. For about a minute--then only blackness and the stars. I took it as a good sign.
We were unable to see re-entry--the fiery streak of a capsule moving at Mach 20+ feeling the braking force of the atmosphere--though we were looking. Received word that all was well from the ground a bit later. Felt relieved that our friends were safe and sound. Then went back to my sleep studies (Isn't it great that I can say that I am "conducting experiments," when in fact, I am trying to catch a nap? I like that experiment).
Okay, John. Mommy said that she is determined to finish up your baby book before she leaves Russia. I'm trying to encourage her, because I want to see what I missed. You'll be a little person, not a baby, by the time I get back.
Love you very much. Give Mommy one of your special kisses for me. Miss you both. Not too long until I, too, come back to Earth in a fiery streak, and we'll all be together again. Won't need anymore photo books.