During the middle part of the 1990s NASA and the Russian Space Agency engaged in a set of cooperative missions that resulted in nine Space Shuttle-Mir link ups between 1995 and 1998, including rendezvous, docking, and crew transfers. Jerry Linenger was one of the NASA...
During the middle part of the 1990s NASA and the Russian Space Agency engaged in a set of cooperative missions that resulted in nine Space Shuttle-Mir link ups between 1995 and 1998, including rendezvous, docking, and crew transfers. Jerry Linenger was one of the NASA astronauts sent to fly on Mir, serving there between January 12 and May 15, 1997. This book recounts his experiences training for this mission, including the difficult time he spent at the Cosmonaut training facility at Star City, as well as the mission itself. As he noted about the Russians at Star City, "the goal of helping cosmonauts and astronauts better prepare for a mission was not a shared goal. Making money off the Americans seemed to be the overriding consideration" (p. 43).
A centerpiece of this book is the exceptionally difficult crises on Mir while Linenger was aboard. The first took place on February 24, 1997, when Linenger and his fellow crewmembers fought a fire caused when an oxygen generator in Kvant 1 malfunctioned and ignited. While the fire burned for only about ninety seconds, the crew was exposed to heavy smoke for five to seven minutes and donned masks in response. Linenger had been in the Spektr module working on his computer when he heard Mir''s master alarm go off. He shut down his computer--in case the power should go off--put on some protective gear, and rushed as best he could in his weightless condition to the scene of the accident. They all realized that the fire was serious, it could jeopardize the station and their lives, for it blocked access to one of the Soyuz spacecraft needed for return to Earth. Crewmembers extinguished the fire with foam from three fire extinguishers, each containing two liters of a water-based liquid. The fire was not small. Burning in all directions in the microgravity of the space station, the oxygen from the generator fueled hydra-like flames up to three feet long. Periodically, said Linenger, bits of molten metal from the oxygen generator went splattered the bulkhead. Once the fire had been contained they started purging the atmosphere of the smoke, and Linenger, a physician, examined the other members of the crew to ensure they had not been injured. The crew wore masks and goggles until an analysis of the Mir atmosphere ensured that they experienced no serious health risk.
The fire foreshadowed a series of problems aboard Mir during the spring and summer of 1997. Oxygen generators broke down, the automatic docking system malfunctioned, various types of equipment both great and small interrupted the normally monotonous activities, the station''s orientation system broke down, the power system failed when the solar arrays lost their position toward the Sun, and leaks in the Kvant-2 cooling system forced numerous repairs and seemingly endless fussing to keep it running. It appeared that the Mir crew, including Linenger, spent the majority of their days repairing the space station. They gingerly positioned Mir in relation to the Sun so that they could control temperature on various parts of the station. The environment on Mir was uncomfortable, and the crew complained about it.
Linenger believed that Russian mission control failed to inform the crew about the status of their station. He expressed nothing but praise for his fellow crewmembers for their strength and perseverance throughout the mission. Even with communication difficulties, a cloud of doubt surrounding the station''s systems, difficulties with mission control, and fires and toxic fumes, the crew worked relatively well under very difficult circumstances.
Linenger tells his story with verve and style, and not a little humor, but that that barely hides a cynicism aboiut the whole effort. He concluded, "That the shuttle Mir program is primarily a political rather than a technical endeavor is obvious to anyone working on it or familiar with it" (p. 113). He also notes that the Shuttle/Mir program was essentially a form of foreign aid by the Clinton administration to Russia using NASA''s space exploration money rather than funds appropriated through the various foreign aid programs of the United States. He concluded: "the U.S. government perceived that engaging the Russians in a cooperative space undertaking was reason enough to stick by Mir. Or perhaps having a means for our government to funnel millions of dollars in foreign aid to Russia under the guise of `rent money'' so the United States can send astronauts to Mir is a valuable political stratagem" (p. 248).
In many ways this is a fascinating book, pulling back the curtain on the Shuttle/Mir cooperative program between the U.S. and Russia in the mid-1990s.