| Ending and Beginning | Baikonur Cosmodrome | Thagard Bio | Meanwhile on Earth |

An Ending and a Beginning     

Norm Thagard training at Mir Mockups at Star CityIt 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 Mir residents.

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 launch.

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.

Strekalov, Dezhurov and Thagard The 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."

Dezhurov, Strekalov, and Thagard walk to soyuz launch vehicleIn 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.

Liftoff of Soyuz rocket carrying Mir-18 crewFinally, 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 and communications.

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."

Scenic view of Mir over cloudy open ocean, earth limb in background.Norm 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.’"

Dezhurov and Strekalov examine model of Mir Command 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 their orders.

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."

Dezhurov installing gyrodyne View of quail egg experimentAn 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 meaningful work.

Strekalov examines schematic on metal cover Deprivation 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.

Thagard biking on Mir "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 consequences.

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.

 Mir-18 spacewalk In 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 hours.

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 responded.

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.

Mir-18 spacewalk During 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.

Thagard displays his Mir-18 flight suit Shuttle approaching Mir Preparations 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 out, because

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.

Read more about Norm Thagard and NASA-1.

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Thagard Biography

NASA portrait of Astronaut Norman E. ThagardNorm Thagard was born in Marianna, Florida. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering science from Florida State University and a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He served in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine fighter pilot and flew four Shuttle missions between 1978 and 1992, logging more than 25 days in space.

In regard to his Russian crewmates, Thagard 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.’"

After his Mir experience, Thagard left NASA to become a professor at Florida State University.

Read more about Norm Thagard and NASA-1.

Read Norm Thagard's Oral History (PDF)


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Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur CosmodromeNorm Thagard and his Mir-18 crewmates launched in a Soyuz capsule from Baikonur Cosmodrome on the desolate, windswept steppes of Kazakhstan, about 1,300 miles southeast of Moscow.

Baikonur had launched all Soviet and Russian human spaceflight missions, as well as many important unmanned rockets. Its construction began in secrecy in 1955. To mislead Western militaries, the Soviets misrepresented its name and coordinates as those of the actual town of Baikonur, about 200 miles to the northeast. Sputnik-1, the world’s first artificial satellite, launched from Baikonur in 1957, as did cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in orbit, in 1961. Baikonur was the Proton rocket launch site for all of Mir’s modules, including Spektr and Priroda, which docked with Mir during the Shuttle-Mir Program. After the Soviet Union broke up, Russia began leasing the site from the new Republic of Kazakhstan.

Baikonur’s 45-degrees-north latitude helps spacecraft attain orbits that pass over most of the inhabited Earth. Its severe continental climate—with temperatures from 40°F below zero to 113°F above zero—obligated the Soviets to develop rockets that could launch in nearly any weather.

During Shuttle-Mir, NASA officials were impressed by Baikonur—by its remoteness, certainly, but also by how its launch capabilities were maintained in spite of Russia’s extreme financial difficulties. Former NASA astronaut Joe Engle described Baikonur as "an enormous, vast, desolate" area, and he said that many structures there had "not been kept up … and yet the particular facilities that they need to launch vehicles from are operational.

"I was impressed," Engle said.

"It reminded me a little bit of Edwards Air Force Base," in California, "a remote, desert-type environment that is remote for a reason.

"They’re launching vehicles that sometimes are not successful, so they need a big area where there are not any people around … so they can drop them in the desert and not hurt anybody. They also need an area that is secure, where they can perform tests and things that they don’t want to be public domain at the time—just like we do at our remote test facilities," said Engle.

Nonetheless, Engle said, "It was sad to see the facilities that I know at one time were really first class—to see them run down and deteriorating. I guess it’s a sign of the times."

NASA’s Charles Stegemoeller, who was Project Manager for the U.S. research experiments in the Spektr module, said he had a lot of respect for what the Russians had accomplished. Stegemoeller said, "Never have so many done so much, with so little, for so long. There’s just an intense sense of pride. I mean, the little old lady who sews … thermal insulation … on the outside of the spacecraft was the same one who was doing it for the last 30 years. She was hunched over this table … doing this hand-stitch work, while we were unpacking our gear and putting it in the module."

The Shuttle-Mir Program and other international investments in Russia’s space launch capabilities led to renovations and new construction at Baikonur. After Shuttle-Mir, Baikonur remained a busy facility. Today, it is Russia’s launch site for the International Space Station Program.

See Soyuz diagrams.


| Ending and Beginning | Baikonur Cosmodrome | Thagard Bio | Meanwhile on Earth |

Meanwhile on Earth

Phase 1 Program pioneers, Thagard, Barratt, Whitson, and WardEarly during Norm Thagard’s stay onboard Mir—on March 30, 1995—NASA announced four Mir astronaut assignments. Shannon Lucid would be the second American to be a Mir crewmember. Jerry Linenger was, at first, scheduled to be the third. However, John Blaha was already training as Lucid’s backup in Star City, so he was soon moved into the NASA-3 slot. Scott Parazynksi was selected as backup for Linenger. He and Linenger began training in May.

While Norm Thagard was being first in so many ways in orbit, NASA’s people on Earth were breaking new ground, too. James Van Laak, who would become Frank Culbertson’s Deputy, joined Tommy Holloway’s Phase 1 staff in April 1995. Van Laak later described the program (at that point), "There really wasn’t any specialization in the staff … with one or two exceptions. Essentially, we all did whatever we were assigned [to do], and pulled together as a little core team to try and implement the program. That was shortly after Norm Thagard was launched, and it was the very beginning of the operational phase. As such, it was a time of great challenge for the program and a time when this ‘flat’ organization without specialization reached its limit very rapidly. It became clear that some specialization was required. We were in the beginnings of defining or deciding what that was going to be." With his U.S. Air Force experience and his time in Johnson Space Center’s Missions Operations Directorate, Van Laak was basically "sliding into an operational or semi-operationally focused job."

Doctors Dave Ward and Mike Barratt were the Flight Surgeons during much of Thagard’s training and flight. As such, they tended to Thagard’s health and needs, managed much of NASA’s communications to Mir, and found common ground with their Russian medical counterparts. Barratt later said that this was "a little awkward at first," in particular with the medical standards. The American and Russian medical teams had different philosophies on astronaut selection and certification, and on the medical monitoring of astronauts. According to Barratt, the Russian philosophy was more toward "functional loading," putting potential Mir crewmembers under different situations—such as low atmospheric pressure, high temperatures, sleep deprivation, and centrifuge-induced g-loads—and then seeing how they responded physiologically. "Our philosophy was more to look for health factors, not necessarily fitness…. And we would differ quite a bit on what test result would declare a person healthy or certified for training or spaceflight…. We have learned a lot about each other since then." More than anything, the two medical teams learned how to make their two systems work together.

Thagard launched with the idea that he was flying and working on Mir as a cosmonaut, as a member of the Mir-18 crew. That limited the amount of voice communications with him. NASA’s managers in Russia realized that the people who did talk directly with Thagard on Mir would have to know him and his medical state, be familiar with his science program, and speak passable Russian as well. The best candidates for that job naturally happened to be Thagard’s Flight Surgeons—Ward and Barratt. As Barratt put it, "By default, we became CAPCOMs [Capsule Communicators]—the last thing on our minds when we went over there."

Because the communications system was so awkward and limited, Barratt said, "It became much more efficient for us to speak English to Norm, to try to get experiment results and procedures up and down the best we could." The Flight Surgeons prebriefed the Russian flight control team on everything they were going to say, and then would speak in English to Thagard. "Then," Barratt said, "we’d have to debrief everybody, one by one, of what we said. So just getting some words back and forth in English was a very difficult thing."

According to Barratt, the Russians saw this speaking in English as "uncontrolled communication to their space platform, so it was not something that they took lightly. Nor did we." The concern eventually melted away.

Barratt and Ward were also the American physicians responsible for covering the health of all NASA employees in Russia—both in Star City and at Mission Control-Moscow, the Russian flight control center. According to Barratt, "Whichever one of us was assigned to the flight control center, we would get there before the first communication with the crew and leave after the final one. So there were very long days. We would typically be there at eight or nine [o’clock] in the morning and typically leave at eleven [o’clock] or midnight."

Quick Work on the Ground

At times, managing the long-haul Shuttle-Mir Program required quick thinking and action. A good example occurred in the summer of 1995, when a solar array on the newly arrived Spektr module failed to deploy as designed. An aluminum tube needed to be cut. However, the array was so close to the space station that spacewalkers could not get close enough to do the work. The STS-71 Atlantis mission to Mir was about to launch. Here was an opportunity—if a special tool could be developed in time.

In Moscow, Russian engineers went to work on a tool of their design, and at Johnson Space Center (JSC), a "Tiger Team" assembled to see if they could design, build, test, and certify a tool before launch. A JSC machinist suggested trying an automobile steering wheel cutter, and found one at a local fire department. The Tiger Team members lengthened the arms of the cutter so that it would work at a distance like a tree limb lopper. They adapted the tool so that a spacesuited cosmonaut could use it. They then segmented the arms so that it would fit in a compact box. The whole development process took about six days. Meanwhile, the Russians had developed a tool that worked somewhat like a scissors-jack. After review, the JSC tool was selected as more suitable, and it was packaged and put onboard Atlantis.

The Mir-19 crew of Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin was trained on the tool’s use while Solovyev and Budarin were waiting in quarantine for their launch. One week after the Space Shuttle departed Mir, the cosmonauts performed an EVA and tried out the tool on the solar array.

It worked like a charm.

Process of making flight-critical  seat linerProcess of making flight-critical  seat linerProcess of making flight-critical  seat linerProcess of making flight-critical  seat liner

Creation of a Soyuz Seat-liner

Every individual traveling in a Soyuz capsule must first endure the process of creating the flight-critical seat-liner. The process takes two to three hours and involves a number of crucial steps to ensure an exact fit.

Pictured (above, left) is NASA-3 Astronaut John Blaha, wearing a protective body suit, while technicians pour the plaster around him that creates the mold of his body. With the aid of an overhead crane (above, second from left), the astronaut is lifted out of the partially-set plaster mold. The technicians with artisan skills sculpt the rough edges to provide a smooth, form-fitting contour (above, second from right). Again, Blaha is lowered into the mold, this time wearing a Sokol launch and entry suit (covered with protective body suit) so final adjustments can be made (above, right). From the mold, technicians create the synthetic seat-liner.

Those Mir residents arriving by Space Shuttle transferred their unique seat-liner to the space station.

Next Chapter - STS-71: First Docking!