was the end of the old way in space and the beginning of the new. Norm
Thagard’s NASA-1 mission was all about learning. Thagard symbolized
the fledgling Shuttle-Mir Program as he launched from Kazakhstan on
a Soyuz rocket with his Commander Vladimir Dezhurov and Flight Engineer
Gennady Strekalov. They were on their way to spend 115 days in orbit
and begin America’s experience on Mir. Thagard’s personal objectives
were to learn how the Russians did long-duration spaceflight and "to
be a cosmonaut and fly as a crewmember on a Russian crew." Shuttle-Mir
Program Manager Frank Culbertson would later say that Thagard’s stay
onboard Mir was "the hardest" of the seven American flights.
This was largely because Thagard was the first, and almost everything
was new for everyone involved.
Thagard was well-qualified for his own Herculean labors of learning.
Yet, in several ways he launched under-prepared for other aspects of
his mission. He had had only one year of intensive training, and that
training took place under a Russian pedagogical system, within the Russian
culture, and in the Russian language. Also, his onboard scientific investigations
had to be quickly designed and assembled, and Thagard was often learning
the Russian protocols as they were being worked out. Furthermore, the
important Spektr science module arrived late in his flight. And so,
as Thagard faced his many challenges, he also met one problem that few
had expected: He did not have enough meaningful work to do. This created
a kind of slow torture for a perpetual-motion astronaut. Nonetheless,
Thagard’s overall success opened the door wide for the next six American
Norman E. Thagard was born in Marianna, Florida, in 1943. He came to
his Shuttle-Mir experience as an example of what many American parents
preach to their children: "You can be whatever you want to be—if
you work for it." Thagard had told his high school classmates in
Jacksonville, Florida, that he wanted to be a medical doctor, a fighter
pilot, an engineer, and an astronaut. He became all four. He went to
Florida State University to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in
engineering. He joined the U.S. Marines in 1967, achieved the rank of
Captain, and flew 163 combat missions while serving in Vietnam. After
returning to the United States, he worked on a Ph.D. in engineering,
then went to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, earning
his M.D. in 1977. The next year, while he was interning in South Carolina,
NASA selected Thagard for astronaut training. He flew as a Mission Specialist
on STS-7, STS-51B, and STS-30, and as the Payload Commander on STS-42.
After his fourth Shuttle flight, he was considering what to do "after
NASA"—and thinking about teaching at his alma mater. Then the opportunity
to fly with the Russians arose. In February 1994, Thagard went to Russia
with a small cadre of NASA people, including his backup astronaut Bonnie
Dunbar and Flight Surgeons Dave Ward and Mike Barratt. They were among
the few NASA pioneers of training and flying with the Russians. Others—including
Frank Culbertson, Ken Cameron, and Peggy Whitson—helped develop management,
operations, and the science program.
Norm Thagard’s wife, Kirby, and their youngest son, Danny, joined him
in Star City. They lived in a three-room apartment in a rundown building.
According to Thagard, "It wasn’t a luxury apartment … but by Russian
standards it certainly was." Kirby Thagard taught half-time at
a local school, and Danny attended a Russian high school. Thagard trained
in Russian, studying all the systems of the Soyuz capsule and the Mir
space station. Fortunately, Thagard found some similarities between
the NASA and the Russian methods of training, including the use of single-system
training leading to highly sophisticated full-systems simulations. For
each system, he and Bonnie Dunbar took final oral examinations. At these,
Thagard said, members of the training department "would array themselves
at a table … and they would fire questions at you, in Russian, on their
system, and you had to answer the questions…. You had to pass all exams
at the end if you were going to be certified to fly."
Two weeks before launch, Russian space officials announced that Thagard
and his crewmates had passed all their tests and were ready for their
mission. The mission commander was Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Dezhurov,
who would be making his first spaceflight. The flight engineer was Gennady
Strekalov. Like Thagard, Strekalov had been in space four times.
The crew was flown to the launch facilities at Baikonur, Kazakhstan,
where Thagard was again impressed by the similarities between the Russian
and the American space programs. These included the Russian counterpart
of NASA’s terminal countdown dry test, in which the crew gets into the
launch vehicle and goes through all the procedures in a rehearsal for
Afterwards, the crew flew back to Star City, from where they were sent
to a lodge in the woods, 100 miles west of Moscow. There, they spent
two days resting and relaxing with their families. "It was nice,"
Thagard said. "Get-togethers in the evenings … big fires in the
fireplace." They played ping pong, took saunas, and went cross-country
skiing. On one slope, Thagard skied with such abandon that he worried
about breaking a leg and ruining his opportunity for a flight.
Mir-18 crew then went into quarantine, moving into Star City’s equivalent
of Johnson Space Center’s isolation facility. Each crewmember had his
own room. As in Houston, their spouses could visit, but according to
Thagard, "You’re in the place by yourself, basically." In
a way, quarantine could be seen as the beginning of the actual mission.
Three days before liftoff, the crew flew back to Baikonur, where Thagard
enjoyed the Russian preflight traditions, including a party that the
flight crew hosted for the flight support people.
On launch day, March 14, 1995, the crew was taken into a "suit-up"
room, where a glass window separated the still-quarantined crew from
the next room, full of media representatives and Russian and American
officials. Thagard’s family was there, too. Usually, Russian spaceflight
crews’ families remain in Star City, but Mir "guest researchers"
from other nations had often brought family members to Baikonur. Thagard
and his family were able to converse through the glass, using a microphone
and a speaker. "It was not exactly a private conversation,"
said Thagard. There were cameras "and media people, sort of lurking
around, recording and looking." After a few last words, the curtain
was closed. The crew "suited up," and the suit pressure tests
were run. Then, the crew went back to the window, this time for a final
ceremonial conversation with officials of NASA, the Russian Space Agency,
and the Russian government.
Launch time approached. The crew walked out onto the Kazakhstan steppe
into the bitter March winds. On such a cold morning, a Space Shuttle
would not have been cleared for launch. But, the American and Russian
programs had always differed in that Soviet and Russian space vehicles
could launch and land in a wide range of weather conditions, while American
spaceflights had narrower tolerances. One reason for this was that Kennedy
Space Center usually enjoyed Florida’s subtropical weather, while Baikonur
often suffered an extreme continental climate. A tragic illustration
of weather’s effects on launches was the Space Shuttle Challenger accident
in Florida in 1986, partly caused by the cold January temperatures.
Still, on the day of launch, Thagard said to Strekalov, "Gennady,
we can’t launch today. It’s too cold."
Strekalov answered, "Oh, the colder the better."
"Well, all right." Thagard said, "But it’s still too
windy." The gusts were almost gale-force. A Shuttle couldn’t launch
in that much wind.
Strekalov just said, "As long as it’s not a hurricane." Coincidentally,
the Mir-18 mission’s code name was "Uragan," meaning "hurricane."
The preparations for launch continued. In another way, Thagard found
Baikonur’s frigid conditions ideal. "It was the only time in my
life when I was actually glad I had a pressure suit on, because those
things are usually hot and uncomfortable—especially if you start moving
around in them. And, yet it was just perfect for that day at Baikonur."
a final preflight ceremony, the Mir crewmembers took their marks in
front of the base commander. They stood to attention, and Mir-18 Commander
Dezhurov saluted. He told the General that they were ready to go fly,
and the base commander gave his permission.
At this point, Thagard noted two dissimilarities with NASA’s launch
operations. First, after enduring the strict quarantine and even having
to wipe their fingers with alcohol, the crew now rubbed shoulders with
a crowd of support people, officials, and well-wishers. Second, after
riding in a bus out to the launch pad, they passed through another crowd
milling effectively in the shadow of the dangerous Soyuz rocket. "You
could see the vapor coming off the liquid oxygen tanks," Thagard
said, "telling you that the rocket’s fully fueled and ready to
go." At Baikonur, everyone assumed his own risk in spite of the
fact that in 1960 an R-16 ICBM missile exploded on the launch pad, killing
more than 100 people. In contrast, at NASA’s Shuttle launch facility
all but the most necessary personnel are moved back three miles, even
before the Space Shuttle is fueled.
The Mir-18 crew next rode the elevator to the top of the rocket. Thagard
was first to crawl into the Soyuz’s upper module, which held the crew’s
food, water, and supplies. Strekalov then climbed down into the descent
module and began turning on the systems. Once all three of the crew
were inside, the hatch was shut. At this point, Thagard noted that the
crew on the rocket was actually safer than the crowd outside on the
ground below. The Soyuz capsule had an escape rocket system—similar
to the systems for the Mercury and Apollo capsules—which could rocket
the crew capsule up and to safety in the event of an emergency. Thagard’s
crewmate Gennady Strekalov had, in fact, been saved by this system when
a Soyuz rocket that he and future Shuttle-Mir cosmonaut Vladimir Titov
were riding exploded on the pad in 1983. Although NASA’s Space Shuttle
Orbiter has "return to launch site" procedures in case of
emergencies after the Shuttle is launched, there is no automatic escape
device in the event of an explosion on the pad.
The crew waited about two hours before launch. Their experience at
this point was similar to that of an astronaut on the Space Shuttle’s
mid-deck. They could not see outside. The Soyuz windows were covered
by an aerodynamic shroud. This would fall away later, after the craft
had made its way through the denser parts of the atmosphere. Thagard’s
duties were to switch transmissions between two television cameras—one
pointed at himself and the other aimed toward Dezhurov and Strekalov.
the time arrived. In Thagard’s words, "We just lifted off."
He said the experience was similar to a Space Shuttle launch, except
with "not as much noise, not as much vibration."
On the Shuttle, maximum g-forces occur during the last minute of powered
flight. On the Soyuz, these occur towards the end of the first stage
of the three-stage process. Thagard did not feel the same "sense
of power" that he had felt onboard Shuttles. The Soyuz was never
quite as noisy, nor did it have as much of those "popcorn-like"
vibrations he had felt on his Shuttle launches when the solid rocket
boosters were firing. Conversely, he said that the Soyuz was "never
as smooth as the Shuttle in second stage, because once the Shuttle’s
solid rocket boosters separate, it’s like you’re being propelled by
a giant electric motor. It’s very smooth and fairly quiet."
Yet another difference during ascent between the Shuttle and the Soyuz
was the sensation when the main engines cut off. "When the Shuttle
main engines cut off, they just cut off," Thagard said. "It’s
not a huge emphatic thing. But when the main engines cut off on the
Soyuz, it was very emphatic—almost like a clank or a clang." He
attributed this difference to the fact that a Space Shuttle has already
throttled back to 65 percent of its thrust by the time its main engines
shut down, whereas the Soyuz’s third-stage engine is still at full speed
when shut down.
The Soyuz’s flight path took the vehicle over northeast Russia to a
point about 250 miles ahead of Mir. Over the next two days, the Soyuz
would slowly expand the distance between the two spacecraft until it
caught up with Mir from behind. This rendezvous technique differed from
the Shuttle’s method to get close to Mir. The Soyuz used fewer but longer
maneuvering burns and natural orbital dynamics. A Shuttle would have
used more smaller burns, all targeted to bring the Orbiter to a point
about eight miles behind the space station. Then, the Shuttle’s crew
would have driven the vehicle slowly toward Mir with a series of manually
controlled jet firings.
When the Mir-18 crew had launched, the Mir space station was flying
over central Africa. Coincidentally, NASA’s STS-67 Space Shuttle Endeavour
was high above Indonesia. This brought to 13 the number of men and women
in space at the same time—a new world record. Once in orbit, Thagard
was able to look outside, and the first thing he saw was the Soyuz solar
panels. The crew was on the radio now, talking to the same person who
had been their trainer in Star City for the past year. Thagard called
this continuity "one of the nicest features" of the Russian
space program. It fostered trust, consistency, and better communications.
In NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, trainers did not keep working with
the crews once they had been trained. Furthermore, immediately after
a Shuttle lifted off, NASA ground control switched from Kennedy Space
Center in Florida to Johnson Space Center in Texas. In Russia, ground
control didn’t revert to Mission Control-Moscow until the Soyuz had
"been around the world a few times." According to Thagard,
the trainer on the radio was "a young Captain in the Russian Air
Force—a really good guy." He had accompanied the crew down to Baikonur,
and he had been helping Thagard in many ways. This underscored another
difference between the Russian and American programs. In Russia, emphasis
was often on the person. At NASA—as in America in general—emphasis was
often on the job.
While this situation reflected the two different societies, the situation
also illustrated the different emphases of the two space programs. The
Soviet and Russian space agencies had been working mainly at long-term
residence in orbit, with its associated need for human constancy. NASA
had been developing frequent, short-term access to space and its need
for interchangeable people.
Once the Mir-18 crew received a "go for orbit" from ground
controllers, they were able to take off their Sokol pressure suits,
open the hatch between the two modules, and make all of the Soyuz’s
limited volume accessible to them. There wasn’t much space and, according
to Thagard, there was also absolutely no privacy. Indeed, to avoid having
to use the facilities, some Soyuz crewmembers took enemas shortly before
launch. However, other than being cramped, Thagard said, the Soyuz was
not "a bad place to be for a couple of days." During their
journey, the crew checked systems and collected biomedical data on the
effects of microgravity on the human body. They rode mainly in the Soyuz’s
living module, returning to the descent vehicle for course adjustments
In another way, the Soyuz’s small volume might have had its good side.
Thagard later commented on its possible effects on the phenomenon known
as space motion sickness. As a military jet pilot, a medical doctor,
and a veteran of four Space Shuttle flights, Thagard had experience
and training to draw from. To varying degrees, he had felt some space
adaptation symptoms on all of his Shuttle flights. Yet, on the Soyuz,
he "never got beyond stomach awareness." He attributed the
difference to the small volume of the Soyuz. "You just don’t move
around," he said. "And you certainly don’t have as many head
movements." On a Space Shuttle, "you basically hit the deck
running … You’ve got so much to do, and so little time in which to do
it, that immediately upon clearance and a ‘go for orbit,’ you’re up—just
darting … and throwing big head movements." In Thagard’s opinion,
"There is absolutely no question that that’s what causes and exacerbates
space motion sickness."
Thagard’s responsibilities during rendezvous and docking with the space
station were to control the radios and television cameras and to help
monitor Soyuz systems. As the Soyuz neared Mir on March 16, he took
a brief look at his future home through Vladimir Dezhurov’s periscope,
but his main view of Mir was through the television. The docking was
"perfectly normal," according to Thagard. Dezhurov could have
taken over manually if necessary, but the automatic system worked well.
Thagard compared the docking experience to that of backing a car slowly
into a cushioned loading dock. "It’s a definite contact—no question
about it—as though you’d just bumped into something, but not a violent
sort of collision."
The Russians insisted that Thagard be the first one to go onboard Mir.
There, they were met by the Mir-17 crew of Commander Aleksandr Viktorenko,
Valeri Polyakov, who was about to set a world record of 438 straight
days in orbit, and Elena Kondakova, who was on her way to setting a
women’s space record of 169 days. Kondakova was holding a little tray
to which she had attached some bread and salt—the traditional Russian
greeting to visitors. Everybody hugged and, according to Thagard, "Good
times were had by all. It was a nice time. It was a fun time."
Norm Thagard was now one of six residents on Mir.
Dr. Polyakov gave Thagard good reason for his cheerfulness. Thagard
said, "He didn’t look like a person—either from a physical or a
psychological standpoint—who had been on a space station for over 141⁄2
months. His legs were just as big as tree trunks, and he was in a great
mood. Of course, I’m sure knowing that he was going home in a few days
would probably put him in a great mood. Nonetheless, I got the feeling
that he had done perfectly fine." Thagard was very interested in
the physical and psychological aspects of being in space for months
at a time. Seeing Polyakov reassured him that "indeed, at least
some humans can do it without much of a problem, and he was clearly
one of those who did…. I figured, gee, if he did that well after 141⁄2
months, I probably didn’t have much to worry about, for just three [months]."
Thagard was determined to follow Polyakov’s example of frequently wearing
the "Penguin-3" overalls with elastic straps that provided
resistance to body movements and compensated somewhat for the microgravity.
He was determined to walk off the Space Shuttle at the end of his mission.
The two crews then spent a six-day handover period on Mir in which
the departing crew briefed the arriving crew on the state of the space
station. The handover information was invaluable to Thagard. For example,
the stowage and inventory control onboard Mir had gotten quite poor
over the years. Thagard said, "When something’s been up there for
years and years, the ground never really knows the full state of everything.
They just don’t. The only way the new crew can get all of the up-to-date
information is by talking with the old crew. There were things I probably
never would have found if they hadn’t physically led me by the hand
and said, ‘Okay, this is here and that’s there.’"
structure was another thing that Thagard noted early in the flight.
Although he was still a rookie at spaceflight, Mir-18’s Commander Vladimir
Dezhurov became more authoritarian than he had been before the flight.
As the flight progressed, veteran cosmonaut Gennady Strekalov would
sometimes chafe under Dezhurov, then "level a blast" at his
commander, who would "back off a little." Thagard himself
tried Strekalov’s oratorical tactic to a good result. Interpersonal
relations warmed during the mission. According to Thagard, "Over
the course of time, things just got better and better and better. By
the end of the mission, any time Velodya [Dezhurov] would address me,
it was always, ‘My friend.’ It was great, but it didn’t start out that
way." Other U.S. Mir astronauts would similarly comment that Russian
Mir commanders were more autocratic than their U.S. Space Shuttle counterparts,
who generally added "please" and "thank you" to
There were, of course, other factors involved in the style of the command
structure onboard Mir. The United States and Russia had recently been
military antagonists, and Dezhurov might have felt some national need
to keep a strict command. Indeed, Thagard may have been the first American
ever to serve directly under command of a Russian officer. Thagard later
said, "I thought it was extremely ironic, because when I was flying
missions in Vietnam in 1969 as an F-4 pilot, I thought that there was
an excellent chance that at some point in time I’d have interactions
with the Russians, but I thought they would be of a somewhat different
nature than they turned out [to be]. If anyone in 1969 had ever told
me that I would wind up having a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian force
as a commander, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. Maybe if I get captured
as a POW.’"
On March 21, the Mir-17 crew was ready to leave. As much as he enjoyed
them, Thagard was ready to see them go. A contingent of six crewmembers
stretched the resources of the space station, affecting many systems,
including air quality and toilet facilities. The leave-taking was emotional.
When Mir-17’s Soyuz backed away from Mir and did its fly-around of the
station, Thagard heard on the radio Polyakov’s glee at leaving. Mir-17
commander Viktorenko was saying, "‘Shhh,’ just trying to calm him
down—to get him to be a little bit less rambunctious. It was just fascinating
to listen to that kind of stuff."
Thagard and his crewmates were now on their own. They settled into
their daily routine, which typically began at 8 a.m. Moscow time. The
first two hours were spent washing up, eating breakfast, and preparing
for the day’s tasks. The workday ran from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., with
breaks for lunch and exercise. After dinner, the crew prepared reports
on the day’s activities and reviewed their plans for the next day. From
10 to 11 p.m., the crewmembers had personal time, followed by their
nine-hour sleep period.
During the first week, Dezhurov and Strekalov replaced a condenser
in the air-conditioning system. The entire crew collected body fluid
samples for metabolic experiments. They took air and water samples for
hygiene, sanitation, and radiation experiments. And each man spent time
in the Chibis suit, which measured cardiovascular system responses to
lower body negative pressure.
Thagard’s complement of 28 science investigations encompassed seven
disciplines, including fundamental biology and microgravity studies;
human metabolic, neurosensory, motor performance and cardiovascular
responses to long-duration spaceflight; and the scientific characterization
of the Mir environment.
In a press conference on March 24, Thagard compared Mir to a utility
room that had been lived in for nine years. However, he found the air
quality to be excellent; in fact, the air seemed cleaner than the air
on a Space Shuttle. The space station’s air continually recirculated
through filters for years, while a Shuttle launched full of ambient
Florida air. Thagard said he had had problems finding equipment and
getting things started, and he offered this advice for future Mir astronauts:
"Train. Train. Train."
unmanned Progress resupply spacecraft arrived from Baikonur on April
11. The vehicle carried over two tons of supplies, including water,
food, fuel, and equipment, as well as a personal "care package"
for each crewmember. When the Progress docked, it was already past midnight,
but the crew stayed up to open the hatches. Thagard said, "One
of the things you notice is that the air smells different inside the
vehicle, but it’s not any special air supply or anything. I guess it’s
just the Baikonur air that was in there." He would notice the same
sort of odor when the Spektr module arrived later in the mission. The
crew began unloading the Progress on April 13. Among the biological
experiments were 48 fertilized Japanese quail eggs, which the crew put
into an incubator. The crew planned to stop the development of each
egg at a different point in the flight so researchers could later study
how embryo development is affected by microgravity.
Later in April, the crew learned that scheduled spacewalks for work
on solar arrays had been postponed due to a delay in the launch of Spektr.
The crew continued their routine experiment work. They replaced a humidity
control fan with one from the Progress, installed a battery unit in
the Kristall module, and began removing an unused shower in the Kvant-2
module. They used a machete to help cut the shower into small enough
pieces to fit into the Progress. Where the shower had been, they installed
a new set of gyrodynes that, when spinning, helped keep spacecraft "locked"
into specific attitudes—or tilts—in space.
The crew also worked on defrosting a troublesome freezer left over
from a previous European Space Agency mission. Thagard needed the freezer
to store biological samples, such as blood and urine, but the unit had
been causing problems since early April and much effort went into keeping
the freezer from frosting up. At about six weeks into Thagard’s mission,
the freezer failed entirely.
During the middle of Thagard’s stay onboard Mir, before the arrival
of the Spektr module, one of the more negative—and unexpected—aspects
of his flight became a problem. Thagard’s crewmates, Dezhurov and Strekalov,
had plenty of work, keeping Mir systems running and preparing for spacewalks.
However, Norm Thagard—the ever-achiever—now found himself without enough
to do. Some of his science was not going well. Further, the Russians
were not ready to have an American take a more active part in running
the station. It was a bad situation. According to Thagard, "The
most important thing from a psychological standpoint is to be reasonably
busy with meaningful work." In contrast, "My Russian crewmates,
from just before the first spacewalk … almost to the end of the mission,
were chronically overworked. Underwork. Boredom. Overwork. Tension.
So, you don’t want to be at either extreme; you want to be somewhere
in the middle."
One item Thagard’s wife, Kirby, had sent up on the Progress was a New
York Times crossword puzzle book. However, said Thagard, "Velodya
and Gennady were very busy, extremely so, and there was no way I could
sit there and work a crossword puzzle—even if I were bored—while Velodya
and Gennady are running around working."
Instead Thagard found ways to busy himself, but not with what he considered
of another kind caused problems, too. This had to do with a human metabolism
investigation and Thagard’s diet. According to Thagard, the Mir-18 food
supply consisted of a basic, repeating, six-day menu. Four of the entrees
were canned fish, which Thagard loathed. All the basic foods were bar-coded
so crewmembers could record with a scanner exactly what they ate. Also
onboard was a supply of more flavorful supplementary foods. But these
were not bar-coded, and crewmembers had been asked to record everything
they ate. However, such a dEarth of paper existed onboard Mir that none
was available to keep a meal log. Thagard gave this example: "Later
on, when we moved the solar battery and had to reroute the electrical
cables, … Gennady took marker pens and wrote out the new schematics
on an aluminum can lid." Meals and their recording became a situation
of diminishing returns.
"The upshot," Thagard said, was that "the food supply
was not adequate for any of us." Dezhurov and Strekalov basically
quit the food program. Strekalov told Thagard that half his food was
coming from the supplementary supply. "But I," Thagard said,
"religiously adhered to the requirement, and I was constantly hungry."
Worse, he was losing weight.
Ground controllers finally realized that Thagard had lost 171⁄2
pounds. During a Mir-to-ground medical conference, Thagard attributed
his weight loss to his faithfulness in following the scientific protocol.
Russian doctors told Thagard, "With that much weight loss, you’re
not just losing fat. You’ve lost muscle mass." According to Thagard,
"They told me that I was free to eat anything onboard, other than
my crewmates—and that’s the way they put it." Trying to control
everything in a closed and confined environment had led to undesired
Some time in the first week of May, while doing some cleaning work,
Strekalov accidentally scratched his arm. The arm became inflamed, and
this caused concern about Strekalov’s ability to do the planned spacewalks.
Physicians on the ground viewed downlinked video of the injury and prescribed
a medication, which physician Thagard administered. The injury healed
and extravehicular activity plans proceeded.
On May 12, Dezhurov and Strekalov conducted their first spacewalk to
prepare the station for Spektr’s arrival. They exited the Kvant-2 airlock
and moved to the Kvant astrophysics module, where they installed electrical
cable attachments and adjusted solar array actuators. They then moved
to the Kristall module and practiced folding three solar panels of the
solar array to be moved to Kvant. Thagard supported the crew from inside
Mir by relaying instructions from the ground and by consulting reference
manuals when Mir was out of range of ground communications. The spacewalk
lasted six hours and 15 minutes—past the allotted time—so the cosmonauts
had to postpone another task: the removal of an American experiment’s
space radiation detectors.
their second spacewalk, on May 17, the two cosmonauts successfully folded
the solar array panels while Thagard controlled servomotor switches
from inside the Kristall module.
The spacewalkers then disconnected the array from Kristall, attached
it to the Strela boom, and moved it to Kvant. But the work used up so
much time and oxygen that they were forced to use their tool tethers
to tie off the array to Kvant, and they had to postpone making the electrical
connections. This marathon extravehicular activity lasted over 61⁄2
The next day, while exercising, Thagard suffered an eye injury. He
was doing deep knee-bends, using a device with elastic straps, when
one end of a strap slipped off his foot and flew up and hit him hard
in the right eye. "I was pretty sure for a while that I had done
some serious damage to the eye," Thagard said. Even small amounts
of light caused him pain, and using the eye was "like looking at
the world through gauze."
Thagard patched his eye. When he told Strekalov what had happened,
Strekalov joked, "Oh, yes. Those things are dangerous. That’s why
I don’t use them."
"Thanks, Gennady, for the heads-up on that one," Thagard
After a consultation with an ophthalmologist at Mission Control-Moscow,
Thagard applied steroid drops, and the eye healed.
On May 20, the Spektr geophysical research module launched from Baikonur
on top of a Proton rocket. Two days later, Dezhurov and Strekalov conducted
a five-hour spacewalk. Working more efficiently than on their two previous
excursions, the cosmonauts successfully connected the solar array to
Kvant, and Thagard commanded its redeployment from inside the station.
The cosmonauts then returned to Kristall, where they retracted 13 panels
of another solar array to provide clearance for rotation of Kristall
during its relocation to make room for Spektr.
Back inside Mir, the crew moved umbilicals, cables, and spacesuit control
panels from Kvant-2 to the Base Block transfer compartment, which would
be depressurized and used as the airlock for the next two extravehicular
activities. On May 26, Commander Dezhurov used a remote manipulator
system to relocate Kristall. On May 28, both cosmonauts performed an
intravehicular activity inside the depressurized transfer compartment.
They relocated a docking cone to serve as the docking receptacle for
Kristall in its next move, and they moved the module again on May 30.
The new Spektr module docked successfully on June 1. Thagard called
the docking "an awesome sight."
On June 2, with the Mir crew and ground controllers in joint control
of Spektr's Lyappa manipulator, the module was moved to its final position.
Later, only one of Spektr's two auxiliary solar array panels unfurled
successfully. Planning began for a sixth spacewalk.
this busy time, on June 6, Thagard surpassed the American single-mission
duration record of 84 days, which had been set in 1974 by the Skylab-4
crew of Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, and William Pogue.
The Mir crew completed their final reconfiguration of the station on
June 10, using the Lyappa arm to move Kristall once more. Thagard began
activating the American equipment inside Spektr, including two freezers
for biomedical sample storage.
At about this time, all three crewmembers were able to talk to their
families; but overall, communication with the ground was far from perfect.
According to Thagard, "There were days ... when we had as little as
about 42 minutes of communication time for the whole 24-hour period.
That's for everything. Obviously, the stuff I was doing can't have priority
over stuff that you need to do to keep the Mir station running. I think
there were four times during the flight when I went 72 hours without
talking to anybody in the Mission Control Center [-Moscow]."
On June 15, the scheduled sixth extravehicular activity of the Mir-18
mission was canceled, partly because Gennady Strekalov thought there
was insufficient planning and lack of proper tools. The spacewalk was
rescheduled for the next Mir crew, which would be trained in the use
of the tools before they launched to the station.
The Mir-18 crew began getting ready for their departure from Mir aboard
the U.S. Space Shuttle. They packed up experiments, biomedical samples,
and other items to take onboard Atlantis. They also concentrated
on microgravity countermeasure exercises and spent time preparing their
cardiovascular systems for return to normal gravity by wearing a Chibis
suit, the Russian lower body negative pressure device. Thagard spent
several communication passes with ground controllers, inventorying the
contents of the Spektr lab.
Thagard also conducted a number of experiments to help investigators
characterize the microbial environment on Mir. He began collecting air,
water, and surface samples and preparing them for return to Earth. These
experiments had been scheduled late in the Mir-18 mission so that the
samples would remain fresh until they were returned to Houston.
June 18 was a sad day onboard Mir when Commander Vladimir Dezhurov
learned that his mother had died. He received two days "off" for mourning;
grief, undoubtedly, is just as heavy in space.
for Atlantis continued but, before its arrival, the space station
crew successfully commanded a solar array into the desired position
for a Shuttle docking. They also worked on disassembling Spektr's remote
control unit, which had provided a backup capability for commanding
Spektr during docking. After being returned to Earth on Atlantis,
the unit would be used on the Priroda module, which would arrive at
Mir during Shannon Lucid's increment. Later, this remote control system
would be involved in two dangerously close calls, during Jerry Linenger's
and Mike Foale's increments.
Norm Thagard's historic flight onboard Mir was coming to an end. He
and his two Russian crewmates were ready to return on STS-71 Atlantis,
but not before four days of delays caused by bad weather at Kennedy
Space Center in Florida. Thagard later told about learning of the postponement.
"Velodya and Gennady and I had been looking out the window as we passed
over the Cape. It was just solid clouds ... over the whole Southeast
... just solid cloud cover. And Gennady says the weather was fine anyway.
"Velodya and I were wondering what window Gennady had been looking
he certainly didn't see the same weather that we had seen.
"But then Gennady says, 'Well, that's fine.' He says, 'Just don't even
let it launch. We'll just wait until September, and we'll come home
in the Soyuz.'
"And this was not really in character with Gennady, because throughout
that mission Gennady was just the nicest guy in the world. There was
never a time when I was doing something and he passed through the area
that he wouldn't ask if he could help. I mean, that's just in Gennady's
nature. But, he wanted to go home, clearly, and he was not happy with
the Shuttle delays. So, he says, 'Well, we'll just wait, and we'll come
home on the Soyuz.'
"And, I looked at him, and I said, 'That's fine with me, Gennady.'
I said, 'I've never ridden on the Soyuz [back to Earth]. It's an experience
I'd like to have. You, on the other hand, are going to miss your daughter's
wedding,' because his daughter was supposed to be married in August.
So, that kind of shut him up."
The Space Shuttle Atlantis docked successfully with Kristall's
docking port on June 29, delivering the Mir-19 crew of Anatoly Solovyev
and Nikolai Budarin.
On July 7, the U.S. Orbiter returned all three of the Mir-18 crew to
Earth. After 115 days in orbit, Norman Thagard was the first to unstrap
from his seat and stand up.
more about Norm Thagard and NASA-1.