John Blaha Pens a Letter Home

NASA astronaut and Mir resident John Blaha wrote a letter about the arrival of a Progress resupply vessel. Part of his mission aboard Mir was to experience what it's like to live in space for a long time. Because planning for the arrival of resupply ships will be part of working aboard the International Space Station, Blaha wrote this letter to share his experience.

This week we started preparing for the arrival of a Progress resupply vehicle. Two days before the launch we started loading up the old Progress docked to the Kvant Module. We put all our dirty clothes, trash, equipment nobody wanted, 600 liters of urine, many containers of solid waste, etc. into the cargo bay.

We started sleep shifting two days before the launch, because we planned to undock the old Progress at 2:00 a.m. and dock the new Progress approximately 26 hours later. We, of course, waited until we knew the new Progress launch was successful and the space ship was going to have a good chance of docking with us before the old Progress was undocked.

At midnight, Valarie, Sasha and I worked with engineers on the ground to insure we had a good seal with the hatch leading to the old Progress. When everyone was convinced we had a good seal, the Moscow Control Center sent commands to automatically undock the old Progress. Valarie installed a special control system near the base block control station and was ready to fly the Progress manually, if required. He had a TV monitor which displayed the Mir as seen from the Progress.

About 10 minutes after the Progress undocked, we could visually see it at about 100 meters through a large window in the floor of the base block. It was beautiful to watch this big beautiful machine with solar panels--they looked like airplane wings--pull away and finally disappear.

Twenty-four hours later we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Progress. I was in the Kvant 2 module looking through one of the small windows. I finally saw the Progress at a distance of 30 kilometers. It was a shinning star rising towards us at great speed from beneath the horizon. This was an incredible sight . There we were approaching the terminator on planet earth, and this "beaming" shining star was roaring towards us. Then all of a sudden, the light from the Progress extinguished as we passed into the shade of the Earth. Five seconds later, four lights on the Progress were turned on. I watched the remainder of the rendezvous through a tiny window in the aft end of the KVANT module; right at the point where the docking would occur. Again, Valarie was monitoring the event with his backup control system in the base block of Mir.

The docking felt quite firm. Five times stronger than I remembered the shuttle docking with Mir felt over two months ago. The Progress rendezvous approached from behind, passed the Mir radius vector, then performed an approach on the velocity vector.

We verified we had a good seal before opening the hatch at about 5:30 a.m. We were supposed to go to sleep at 6:00 a.m. Of course, we stayed up a few extra minutes as we searched for our crew packages.

Once we found our packages, it was like Christmas and your birthday all rolled together when you were five years old. We really had a lot of fun reading mail, laughing, opening presents, eating fresh tomatoes, cheese, etc. It was an experience I will always remember.

The Progress brought us a lot of food, fresh water, fuel for the reaction control jets, oxygen, spare parts needed to repair systems, equipment for a space walk, science equipment, towels and clothes.

I thought you may be interested in reading about what it was like to have a Progress arrive at Mir. This type of event will occur many times on the International Space Station.