triathlete, and astronaut Jerry Linenger flew to Mir to do world-class
science and to show that a human could do more than endure in microgravity—that
he could physically and mentally thrive there.
But, scarcely had his work begun when circumstances changed. An accidental
fire altered the whole nature of his mission and served to change the
relationship between the U.S. and the Russian space programs. Mir systems
breakdowns and problems with communications exacerbated a demanding
and difficult situation, both onboard Mir and on the ground. In spite
of this, the Mir crews—and the American and Russian ground teams—accomplished
the mission’s goals, including almost all of the planned U.S. science
Launching with Space Shuttle mission STS-81 on January 12, 1997, Linenger
succeeded NASA-3 Mir Astronaut John Blaha and joined Russian Mir-22
crewmembers, Valeri Korzun and Alexander Kaleri, who would stay onboard
Mir until the arrival of the Mir-23 crew. During his duration, Linenger
joined his Russian crewmates and became the first American to undock
in a Soyuz spacecraft and do a fly-around of Mir. He also became the
first American to conduct a spacewalk from a foreign space station and
in a non-American spacesuit. Linenger returned to Earth with the STS-84
crew of Atlantis on May 24, 1997, after a total of 132 days in
orbit—the longest-duration flight of an American male to date.
Curiosity was "what got me here," he wrote in a letter from
Mir to his son; but it was more than curiosity that kept Linenger going.
Training and dedication played big roles. Born in Eastpointe, Michigan,
in 1955, Linenger graduated with a degree in bioscience from the U.S.
Naval Academy. He went on to earn a Doctorate in Medicine from Wayne
State University, a Master of Science in systems management from the
University of Southern California, a Master of Public Health in health
policy from the University of North Carolina, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology
from the University of North Carolina. His U.S. Navy duties included
a stint as medical advisor to the Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S.
Pacific Fleet. Selected for astronaut training in 1993, Linenger made
his first Space Shuttle flight on the STS-64 mission in 1994.
Linenger’s second Shuttle flight was his STS-81 trip to Mir. While
Atlantis was still docked, NASA-3 Mir Astronaut John Blaha gave
Linenger a detailed and personalized "handover" of the tough
assignment. This included Blaha’s insider knowledge about Mir’s systems
and quirks, and about the psychological stamina the job would require.
The two also packed up the greenhouse experiment for return to Earth
with the first plants to complete a life cycle in space—a crop of wheat
planted by Shannon Lucid.
Linenger could become an official member of the Mir-23 crew, he had
to try on and test his Sokol pressurized spacesuit, which would be needed
for any emergency evacuation of Mir. STS-81 Mission Specialist John
Grunsfeld described the suit-up in a dispatch he sent down from orbit:
"The suit is a tight-fitting pressure bladder with a helmet, and
Jerry had to squeeze and squirm, with me pushing to get him into it.
Compared to our orange launch-and-entry suits, the Russian equivalent
seems flimsy and delicate, but it is much lighter. We had to take care
not to catch the suit on any sharp edges as we made our way to the Soyuz."
The suit-up worked, and Linenger’s custom-made seat-liner was installed
in the Soyuz. He signed into the space station’s log as an official
crewmember. His adventure was beginning. On January 23, before Atlantis
undocked, he wrote the first in a series of 72 "Letters to My Son"
in which he would chronicle his adventures onboard Mir. "Space
is a frontier. And I’m out here exploring. For five months! What a privilege!"
His experiences would prove to be a considerable challenge as well.
After the Space Shuttle pulled away, the Mir crew took a day off to
relax and unpack some of the materials transferred from Atlantis.
Linenger told flight controllers that unpacking his many boxes of gear
was like opening Christmas presents. He had created quarters for himself
in the Spektr module; and he began his regular daily exercise regimen,
which included two 1-hour exercise sessions on a treadmill and a stationary
bicycle. He also started to work on some of the life sciences and medical
investigations, including replacing the radiation dosimeters that had
been returned to Earth on Atlantis.
science laid out before Linenger entailed experiments in Earth sciences,
biology, human life sciences, microgravity, space sciences, and risk
mitigation experiments for the International Space Station. In an interview
before his launch held at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star
City, Linenger discussed the way he was approaching his science.
"I am a physician by background," he said, "so the life
science things have come pretty easy. The more physics sorts of things—that’s
something that I have had to learn. It’s like going back to school again
and learning some of the basic science behind it, and then getting into
the actual mechanics of how to carry out the experiment." From
Mir, Linenger wrote to his son, "I try my best. It’s important
stuff, and I have to be careful to not make a mistake, like turn the
wrong switch at the wrong time, or the experiment would be ruined. Two
laboratories (actually 13-meter long ‘tubes’—named Priroda and Spektr)
full of equipment. Pretty complex. And basically a one-person show."
Linenger’s first science included working in the Priroda module on
a glovebox facility that would provide an airtight, contamination-free
work area. He also worked with the balky Biotechnology Systems hardware
that had given John Blaha problems.
Linenger was settling in onboard Mir. At the time, he wrote to his
son: "Let me tell you about my house. Spectacular view. Unobstructed,
overlooking the oceans, the lakes, the rivers; the mountains, plains,
and valleys; the city lights, the stars, the other planets. Six modules.
One toilet. Dining area with two private sleep stations. Three vessel
garage: Soyuz, Shuttle, and supply/garbage truck [Progress]. Each module
a 13-meter tube. Lots of extras. Two modules are new additions. State-of-the-art
freezers, computers, gas analyzers. Built-in treadmills and bicycles
for the recreational enthusiast. Utilities: completely solar-powered.
Water from tanks, urine, and condensate. Oxygen included. Radio, ham
radio, and telemetry."
On February 6, three weeks into Linenger’s residency, the Progress
vehicle undocked, full of garbage, to burn up in the atmosphere. After
the undocking, Linenger described how it felt from inside Mir.
"I felt and heard the springs pushing it away. Looked out a tiny
window by the hatch and saw its three lights backing away. Stable and
slow. Then the thrusters [fired] …"
The next day, Linenger and his crewmates took the Soyuz on a 27-minute
"fly-around" of Mir. Later, Linenger gave an impressionistic
account of how it felt from within Soyuz. "Smooth, yet firm, push-off.
Spring-action. An ink pen floating forward. Then the thrusters firing.
Not like an explosion, more like low growls. Short. Repeated….
"Out the window, the Earth spinning by, and the flashes of the
thrusters. The space station docking port moving away. A view of module
Priroda out my window. Then the whole station—all six cylinders …
"Strapped in. Crouched with my knees almost to my chest. Spacesuit
on. Ventilators humming and feeling the air trickle out inside my suit.
Control panel in my face. Spinning miniature globe in a glass case.
Caution-and-warning lights. Operation manuals written in Cyrillic. And
feeling like we are moving, flying …
"On [Mir], you fly around inside—but you don’t feel like the station
is flying. Especially if you don’t look outside. But in the [Soyuz],
it feels like a car or airplane or jet—sitting in a cockpit, and flying.
The Earth spins below. The space station changes position outside the
window. And you feel the gentle thrust …
"The docking. Feel and hear a thud. Feel your spaceship being
yanked around a bit. Glad when the pressure inside holds. Glad to open
the door again."
described an interesting perception of the very odor of space that he
detected in Mir’s airlock. He called it "a distinct, burnt-dry
smell." He added a poetic description of his home in space. "I
could see a lone ray of light shining through the port window and outlining
the dining table. We had left some food out for dinner. It was the only
time during my stay in space that Mir looked warm, inviting, and spacious.
It reminded me of opening the door to a summer cottage that had been
boarded up for the winter, looking inside, and seeing familiar surroundings."
Mir was even more familiar to Linenger’s crewmates. At this point,
Korzun and Kaleri had been onboard for 172 days. Linenger had been in
space for 27 days. The continuous American presence in space was now
well past 300 days.
February 10, company was coming. Soyuz TM-25 launched from Baikonur,
carrying the Mir-23 crew of Vasily Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin,
and German astronaut Reinhold Ewald. Ewald would spend 20 days on Mir,
performing experiments, and would return to Earth with the Mir-22 crew.
On February 11, NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-82) was also
in space, with seven astronauts onboard, on a mission unrelated to the
Shuttle-Mir Program. The resulting 13 people in Earth orbit tied a record
for the most humans in orbit at one time.
Outer space was—in a sense—full, and so was Linenger’s time. He reported
he had not been able to satisfy his interest in geography. "There
is no free time to just go hang out and look out the window," Linenger
said in an interview. "I’ve only done it maybe once a day. I am
not sure five months is going to be long enough up here." The views
he did manage to get proved spectacular. He wrote: "Today I saw
huge dust storms in the Sahara of Africa. Lake Chad drying up. Five
minutes later: the Nile, the triangle of the Sinai Peninsula, and the
Red Sea all in one view. Then, Elbrus and the snow-covered Caucasus."
Also, his physical exercise program was now coming around. He reported:
"The first couple of weeks, it was very, very difficult to run
on the treadmill. It is a lot tougher than I thought it would be, but
now I kind of feel I am back to my old pace and I feel real good."
Soyuz TM-25 arrived on February 12, looking like "a stout, winged
insect." The new crew brought with them a treat for the old crew—fresh
fruit! Apples, bananas, lemons, and oranges. Linenger thought the fresh,
Earthy citrus smell meant even more to him than the taste.
also wrote to his son and described how the new crew was finding its
space legs. "Sasha [Kaleri], Valeri, and I have never collided.
Never even touched. I’m sure that they kept clear of my flight path
early on, but now we just glide by one another with the greatest of
ease. Personal space protected. Everything in place. Huge difference
now. Pencils and cameras and gear a-flyin’. People propelling themselves
off each other…. Cords and cables along the way getting pulled out.
But already, I’ve observed this lessening as the new guys adapt and
learn the terrain."
Mir was crowded now with six humans onboard. To supplement the Elektron
oxygen-generation system, they used lithium-perchlorate canisters, which
generated oxygen through a chemical reaction. Meanwhile, Korzun and
Kaleri packed their belongings for the trip home to Earth with the German
Ewald. Linenger started a human life sciences investigation into immune
system alterations in relation to sleep in microgravity. This required
him to wear electrode sensors while he slept and provoked him to quip
that he was always working, even in his dreams.
During this handover period, his waking nightmare struck. On the evening
of February 24, all hands were in the Base Block finishing a dinner
of Russian dishes such as jellied fish and borscht. "There was
also caviar," according to Mir-23 Flight Engineer Lazutkin, "red
caviar, which we brought along ourselves. You didn’t get it in your
rations. It’s too expensive, but we treated ourselves. Let’s say it
was a festive evening, and all six of us were sitting around the table."
Linenger excused himself to go to the Spektr module to do some work.
At about the same time, Lazutkin went into the tunnel to the Kvant-1
module to "burn" another oxygen-generating canister. In a
complete surprise, the normally slowly combusting chemicals erupted
into searing flame.
Spektr, Linenger heard the master alarm go off. But, that was not, in
itself, alarming to him. The same alarm was also used to wake up the
crew every morning and would sound for many reasons—both serious and
mundane. Linenger’s first reaction was to put on some hearing protection
against the noise and to quickly save his computer data in case the
power went out. He then flew toward the Base Block to see what was happening,
and he noticed the first tendrils of smoke.
"We immediately started fighting that fire," he reported
later from Mir. "You had to react to the situation, you had to
keep your head about you, so I guess it was just a matter of survival.
Going through your mind were thoughts—‘We need to get that fire out.’"
The situation was critical. The fire blocked the only path between
the crew and one of the two Soyuz vehicles. At the moment, there was
a way of escape for only three of the six men onboard the station.
"The smoke was the most surprising thing to me," Linenger
reported. "I did not expect smoke to spread so quickly." In
microgravity, there are no convection currents. But, fans on Mir continually
circulate the air; and this smoke "was a magnitude about 10 times
faster than I would expect a fire to spread on a space station. The
smoke was immediate. It was dense … I could see the five fingers on
my hand, I could see a shadowy figure of the person in front of me who
I was trying to monitor to make sure he was doing okay, but I really
could not make him out. Where he was standing he could not see his hands
in front of his face. In the distant modules at the very end of the
cones, the smoke was still dense, so it was very surprising how fast
and rapid the smoke spread throughout the complex."
fire resembled a box full of fireworks sparklers, all burning at once.
The flame shot out about two to three feet in length, with bright bits
of molten metal "flying across and splattering on the other bulkhead."
The canister provided the fire with both oxygen and fuel. "It had
everything it needed," Linenger said later.
Lazutkin said, "When I saw the ship was full of smoke, my natural
reaction was to want to open a window. And then, I was truly afraid
for the first time. You can’t escape the smoke. You can’t just open
a window to ventilate the room."
The crew immediately began putting on oxygen masks. Linenger’s first
mask failed to activate quickly enough, so he grabbed another one. He
said that in the time between trying the two masks, the space station’s
atmosphere became unbreathable. "I did not inhale anything, and
I don’t think anyone else did because the thickness of the smoke told
you that you could not breathe. So, everyone immediately went to the
oxygen ventilators. They worked very [well], and they protected us from
Mir-22 Commander Valeri Korzun was in charge of the station. He ordered
the one accessible Soyuz escape vehicle to be readied for evacuation.
Now, they had to subdue the fire. Korzun faced the fire, using Mir fire
extinguishers. He later said, "When I started spraying foam on
the hot canister, the foam didn’t stick and had little effect. So, I
switched to water and started using that." The water turned to
steam, adding to the smoke.
Throughout this ordeal, physician Linenger stayed with Korzun. He passed
Korzun fresh fire extinguishers and kept monitoring his level of consciousness.
Also, to stabilize Korzun in the absence of gravity, Linenger wedged
his own legs into Mir’s connecting tunnel and held on to Korzun’s legs.
"At one point," Linenger said, "I floated in front of
his face, but the smoke was too dense, even at six inches [to see how
he was doing]. So, I resorted to tugging at him when I could not be
assured that he was still okay."
Korzun recalled later, "Jerry kept tugging my leg. ‘Valeri, how
do you feel?’" Linenger also kept an eye on his other crewmates.
He was impressed with Alexander Kaleri’s cool-headedness. During the
crisis, Kaleri calmly worked at a computer, printing out reentry information
for both of the Soyuz vehicles.
The oxygen canister eventually burned itself out; but smoke remained
everywhere, even "in the distant modules at the very end of the
cones." It was now about 100°F inside the Kvant-1 module. And,
it was dark with smoke and soot. According to Lazutkin, "We even
thought someone had switched the lights out in Kvant. That’s how black
fire had destroyed the canister itself, as well as the panel covering
the device. The crew also reported that the outer insulation on several
cables was melted by the heat. Fortunately, all Mir systems continued
to operate normally.
Shortly after the incident, Linenger reported from Mir, "Being
a physician, I was very concerned with crew health. We set up a station
for any respiratory problems that might take place. We had all the emergency
gear in place. I did exams on all the crewmembers immediately following
the fire, and then for 24 and 48 hours after that. I looked at oxygen
saturation in the blood, checked the lungs—all the normal things you
would do post-fire. From my assessment, I [didn’t] see where anyone
had any serious [smoke] inhalation damage, and it was due to good action
by the crew to get into the oxygen masks quickly."
two crews went back to work. Linenger completed the first part of the
sleep investigation on March 1. On March 2, the Mir-22 crew returned
to Earth. Korzun and Kaleri had clocked 197 days in space. The new Mir-23
commander, Tsibliev, had already spent 200 days on Mir during an earlier
expedition. This mission was Lazutkin’s first time in space. Linenger
still had nearly three months left.
Trouble occurred again almost immediately. During the first week in
March, an Elektron unit failed. The unit, located in Mir’s Kvant-2 module,
separates oxygen from the onboard wastewater and returns the oxygen
to the cabin atmosphere using electrolysis. Russian ground controllers
asked the crew to attempt to activate a second Elektron unit located
in the Kvant-1 module. The crew succeeded in starting up that unit,
but the unit was producing higher levels of hydrogen than it should.
Controllers told the crew to shut down the system and to go back to
the solid-fuel, oxygen-generating devices. There were still 200 of these
onboard—a two-month supply—and thousands had been successfully used
during Mir’s lifetime. Linenger and his crewmates did not object, but
they made sure they always had a clear path to the Soyuz in the event
of another fire.
The crew also had problems with the Progress-233 resupply vehicle,
which had been undocked from the station on February 6 and placed in
a stationkeeping position away from Mir. The spacecraft could no longer
redock to the outpost as planned due to problems with the remotely operated
rendezvous system. The next test of the rendezvous system was scheduled
for the next Progress resupply vehicle, scheduled to arrive at Mir on
early March, Linenger worked on the Human Life Sciences Humoral Immunity
Investigation, which involved taking blood samples to study the immune
cells in the human body. He also began the Microgravity Opposed Flame
Flow Spread Experiment to study flames in microgravity. He wrote, "We’ve
got some great experiments…. We’re way ahead on the power curve as far
as that goes. For example, we did a flame experiment inside a glovebox,
a very controlled situation looking at ventilation and how it affects
flame spread." The cabin fire in late February possibly added to
Linenger’s interest in this. He wrote, "I realize that this is
important work I’m doing up here. I am glad to be doing it and I am
very preoccupied with my work."
The science was very important to Linenger. In a letter to his son,
he wrote again about the flame experiment and commented on the value
of having human researchers doing the science. "I’m not only getting
through this experiment, but I’m expanding it a bit, based on my real-time
observations…. A programmed machine can’t do that. You need a trained
human observer, a scientist, to do that. Human observation and intervention
give us better data, better understanding."
In another letter, he compared his situation with that of Antarctic
explorers of about a century earlier. "Compared to what they endured,
the space station is a five-star hotel. They ate seal and penguin meat,
day after day after day. I get Russian-American freeze-dried cuisine—shrimp
cocktail, veggies, [borscht]—the whole spread. They had a lightless
winter. I get light and dark every 45 minutes. They wore the same clothes
for over a year; I get a fresh T-shirt and pair of shorts every week.
They had to trudge through uneven, unstable terrain; whereas I float
Still more technical problems came in mid-March as Linenger was passing
the halfway point in his stay onboard Mir. The space station’s orientation
system broke down. A sensor in the Spektr module failed, prompting the
motion control computer to switch to a backup system. During the three-minute
swap-over, all attitude control was lost. The crew placed the station
in what is called "free drift" and then used onboard thruster
jets to stabilize its attitude. For most of that day, Mir remained in
a "gravity gradient," which basically means that the most
massive part of Mir naturally pointed toward Earth. Because this attitude
did not keep the solar arrays pointed at the Sun, the crew turned off
the gyrodynes and other equipment to conserve power. Late in the day,
flight controllers uplinked a new attitude maneuver to the motion control
system computer, and the crew restarted the gyrodynes. The station’s
primary attitude sensor, called Omega, was still inoperable; and so
control was managed by a backup unit until the crew installed a spare
Omega sensor and rerouted cables.
Linenger described, in a letter, the experience of going without power
on Mir. "Last night it got really, really, really dark in my room,
module Spektr. Lost all power. I’ve been in dark places before, but
this was unEarthly dark. Darker than any dark I’ve ever seen. Dark is
not even the proper word for it.
"Of course, I couldn’t hang out in the quiet room. No ventilators
working means no air circulation. Warm air doesn’t rise in space (which
way is up?); there is no natural convection. No wind, no breeze; without
the ventilators, only stillness."
In late March, Linenger became the fourth most experienced U.S. astronaut
when his total flight time surpassed that of the 1974 Skylab-4 crew
of 84 days in space. The only U.S. astronauts with more time in space
were his Shuttle-Mir predecessors—Norm Thagard, Shannon Lucid, and John
Blaha. In a radio interview, Linenger talked about his experience so
is a small place, but space is an amazing place to be. Just today I
looked out the window … and saw [the comet] Hale-Bopp. It looked like
a flashlight in the sky, and then I looked to the north and saw the
Northern Lights flickering green explosions off the northern horizon
of the Earth. Then, I saw the sunrise. Moments like that lift your spirits.
Loneliness and things that you might think would be very tough to bear
up here get kind of mellowed out by things like that. The adventure
of being in space is enough to get you through it, and I really have
no difficult problem with that up here."
early April, the Mir-23 crew had used about 70 of the oxygen-generating
"candles" since the fire. They had about 130 remaining and
were using about three a day. Also, Russian flight controllers had detected
a leak in one of the Kvant-2 module’s cooling loops. The Mir crew worked
on the leak while the station’s orientation was altered so that Kvant-2
was kept in the shade of other structures. Because of coolant loop problems,
a Vozdukh carbon dioxide removal unit shut down. Carbon dioxide removal
now had to be performed by lithium-hydroxide canisters.
The crew was now awaiting the launch of the next Progress resupply
vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Progress was
bringing repair equipment for the Mir’s Elektron oxygen-generating system,
additional oxygen-generating candles, and extra repair gear for the
station’s cooling loops as well as routine supplies of food, equipment,
and personal effects for the crew. Also, new spacesuits for a planned
spacewalk by Tsibliev and Linenger on April 29 were stored aboard the
resupply ship, as were replacement lithium-hydroxide canisters, gas
masks, and fire extinguishers.
The crew kept working on their science investigations. An unknown hardware
failure of the orientation experiment resulted in the only cancellation
of an experiment for Linenger. That experiment was to have used French
equipment to examine changes to human sensory functions during spaceflight,
as well as the subsequent effects experienced during a cosmonaut’s readaptation
On April 8, Progress-M 34 docked. Mir now had enough solid-fuel oxygen
generators to provide several months of backup oxygen for the station,
plus several weeks of gaseous oxygen stored in tanks. Mir had 14 new
lithium-hydroxide canisters that could remove carbon dioxide from the
air for 21 days if needed as a backup for the Vozdukh carbon dioxide
The crew was now constantly doing repair work. Most of the science
work was suspended for that week so Linenger could help his crewmates.
The crew’s exercise schedule was reduced to one hour per day. By week’s
end, they got the Vozdukh system restarted, lowering carbon dioxide
levels onboard. It was not a perfect fix, but additional hardware was
scheduled for delivery in May by STS-84. Tsibliev and Lazutkin also
repaired the cooling loop in Kvant-2 and were able to duct some cooler
air into the Base Block. Lazutkin tried to repair the Elektron oxygen-generating
system, but he did not succeed.
Besides causing cooling problems, the coolant loop leaks also allowed
ethylene glycol to escape into the station. Linenger talked about the
situation in an interview. "The ethylene glycol caused the concern
that I have as crew physician: inhaling ethylene glycol. We have some
respirator filter masks that we wear when we’re doing the repairs in
Kvant, so that lessens some of the effect. We’re having some congestion—secondary
I’m sure—due to some of the fumes. Temperature, of course, not only
affects us but also affects some of the hardware onboard and the ability
to remove the moisture from the air. You need a cooling loop for the
condenser to work to gather the condensate, so the humidity is up also,
which again is not the best thing for equipment. It gets very complex
very quickly, and we need to fix our problems."
The environment on Mir was hot, messy, and uncomfortable on Linenger’s
90th day in space. He said he felt fine physically and also felt safe
onboard despite the difficulties the crew had to deal with. He was asked
if his mission to the Mir had turned out the way he expected.
really," he said, "although we’re out here in the frontier
and I guess I expected the unexpected. We’ve been getting some of that.
As far as the science return, it is what I expected…. We’ve been running
more metal samples and things like that than we thought we’d be able
to do. So, in spite of some of the difficulties, we’ve been having a
very successful mission. And, some of the system problems—I can’t say
that I expected them. But, … I was trained to work on those systems
and assist the crew where I could."
In mid-April, Linenger and Tsibliev began preliminary preparations
for a five-hour spacewalk to retrieve micrometeorite detection packages
located on Mir’s docking module. This would be Linenger’s first extravehicular
activity, as well as the first spacewalk by an American from a non-American
spacecraft and performed wearing a non-American spacesuit.
crew had gotten the Elektron system working, but oxygen production was
insufficient so they were using supplemental oxygen from the Progress
vehicle as required. They also had the Vozdukh carbon dioxide scrubber
working again, but they had been unsuccessful in finding leaks in the
coolant loops. And, they were now having trouble with condensation buildups.
They had discovered great globs of water located behind panels in the
Kvant-1 module. In microgravity, even leaks act differently than they
do on Earth.
Towards the end of April, the Mir-23 crew worked at their repairs.
They kept the space station in an attitude that shaded the Base Block,
although that diminished power from the solar arrays. They were allowed
to resume their normal two-hours-a-day exercise schedule. Linenger passed
his 100th day in orbit, and the Shuttle-Mir Program marked the 400th
consecutive day in which an American had been in space. Tsibliev and
Linenger prepared for their extravehicular activity.
Both spacewalkers would wear new versions of the Russian Orlan spacesuit.
Their first task would be to install the optical properties monitor
to the station’s docking module. One of the extravehicular activity’s
exercises would make use of the Strela crane, which Mike Foale, future
NASA-5 Mir Astronaut, described at the time. Foale said, "It’s
basically a long, telescoping tube just like the antenna on a radio.
It can telescope in and out, and you can change the telescoping with
your hands. It allows one person to clamber along it using the handholds
on it to the base. Vasily [Tsibliev] will clamber down there, and he’ll
then tell Jerry to hold on, attach the big suitcase, and then Vasily
will crank it and he’ll move the whole tube over through the 90 degrees
while Jerry is just floating—90 feet away from the rest of the Mir—just
on the end of this pole. It bounces around, too. It’s pretty ‘whippy’….
Jerry holds on—holds fast. And, he ties off the crane. At this point,
Vasily makes his way along it to join Jerry, and then he and Jerry will
install the optical properties monitor on the docking module."
On April 29, Tsibliev and Linenger conducted their 5-hour spacewalk.
They tested the new spacesuits, installed the optical properties monitor
and a radiation dosimeter, and retrieved several externally mounted
material-exposure panels. Linenger has said that the spacewalk, such
an amazing experience, was probably the main memory he would take away
from his time onboard Mir.
Jerry Linenger's letters to his son
The Mir-23 crewmembers spent the day after the extravehicular activity
resting, and stowing their spacesuits and the articles retrieved from
the exterior of the Mir. They resumed more routine activities, including
an effort to isolate a leak in a cooling loop in the Kvant-1 module.
The Russian flight control team reported the Mir’s oxygen-generation
and carbon dioxide removal systems were operating normally. The ground
controllers also asked Mir Commander Tsibliev to try out a new way of
docking a resupply vehicle, by practicing on the garbage-filled Progress
that had recently undocked from the station.
Up to this point, the Russians had used a Kurs ("course")
automated docking system, with a manual backup remotely operated rendezvous
system operated by Mir’s commander. But, the Kurs system was expensive
and heavy. To save weight and cost, they wanted to try the manual system
as the primary way to dock a Progress. However, on March 4, when ground
controllers sent the Progress toward Mir, Tsibliev was never able to
gain control of the vehicle. The Progress narrowly missed hitting Mir.
Linenger described the moment. "I flew to the window that faced
the same general direction as the window Sasha and Vasily were using,
and did so just in time to see the Progress go screaming by us. Fearing
the very real possibility of collision, instinct told me to brace for
impact. I gritted my teeth, held my breath, and hoped for a miss. Although
the Progress had disappeared from view under the edge of the window,
I quickly calculated that, having felt nothing, the Progress must have
missed hitting the Base Block."
A similar, failed maneuver would indeed result in a collision—and a
crisis—during the next Shuttle-Mir increment, that of Mike Foale.
Jerry Linenger’s increment was nearing its end. The crew spent the
first half of May finishing up Linenger’s science investigations, tidying
up the station, and working on repairs. They fixed a urine processing
system, sopped up condensation, and repaired a condensate recovery system.
To get ready for the arrival of the STS-84 crew, they checked the Elektron
oxygen system and tapped into the oxygen supplies of the docked Progress
vehicle. They kept looking for the small coolant leaks with no success.
On May 9, Linenger summed up his stay onboard Mir. He said, "[There
are] two sets of difficulties we’ve had. One is the human difficulty
of dealing with those things, and the other one is the space station
itself. We’ve overcome all the difficulties. The ultimate test is we’re
still alive and well, we’re all here exploring the frontier. On the
other hand, it takes a lot of work, it takes daily attention, and it
takes a lot of work from smart people on the ground looking over our
shoulders and giving some guidance along the way. But, we were able
to overcome about as much difficulty as you can imagine."
The crew of STS-84 on the Space Shuttle Atlantis arrived May
16, 1997, with NASA-5 Mir Astronaut Mike Foale. On May 24, Atlantis
landed at Kennedy Space Center. Jerry Linenger had spent 132 days in
orbit, the longest space mission of an American male to that date.
more about Jerry Linenger and NASA-4
the Congressional Mir Safety Hearing document
the Administrator's Letter to Congress
Concerning the Shuttle-Mir Program