WITH U.S. VIA SATELLITE...
SEPTEMBER 30, 1997
As of Sunday, American astronaut David Wolf has called the Russian space station Mir home. But with the recent host of technical problems that have plagued the station, do Wolf and fellow American astronaut Michael Foale consider it a happy home? After a brief background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth pays a visit via satellite.
NASA SPOKESMAN: Three, two, one, booster ignition and lift-off of the space shuttle Atlantis.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
August 14, 1997:
Should the U.S. send another astronaut to Mir?
July 21, 1997:
Are Russians losing faith in their space program?
July 17, 1997:
Mir free-floats after a cable is disconnected.
June 25, 1997:
A re-supply ship hits the Mir space station.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of space and science.
Browse the official NASA Mir Web site.
View NASA's Web site.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The space shuttle Atlantis brought NASA astronaut David Wolf to his new home on the Russian space station Mir. Wolf arrived over the weekend for a four-month stay on the increasingly controversial and problem-plagued spacecraft.
The decision to send Wolf came at the last minute, after NASA was assured that Mir is safe, despite several months of mishaps. The station's central computer has failed three times in as many weeks, most recently last Monday. One of the worst collisions ever in space took place in June when a cargo ship rammed into the station, damaging solar panels that provided electricity. Earlier this year an oxygen generating canister burst into flames, filling the station with smoke and the air conditioning and carbon dioxide removal systems have both broken down.
Wolf has spent his first few days on Mir moving supplies to the space station, including a new computer, pressurized air tanks, food, and water. He is the sixth American to live aboard Mir and is replacing astronaut Mike Foale, who spent much of his time on Mir doing repairs. I talked to David Wolf, Michael Foale, and Commander James Wetherbee earlier today.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David Wolf, you've been on the Mir for a couple of days so far. What has surprised you most about it?
DAVID WOLF, NASA Astronaut: When I first walked in, I got a big breath of very fresh air. It was clean and cool. There is an amazing amount of equipment here. It's a little bit like a--one of those camera-TV-computer shops in New York City. And it's a lot to learn to work but it's going to be a lot of fun.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Dr. Wolf, the problems that have been plaguing Mir are not affecting you right now, the carbon monoxide-- sorry-- carbon dioxide levels, for example?
DAVID WOLF: No, the breathing air feels very fresh, and I don't sense a high CO2 level whatsoever, and we've talked about that and we all feel good; no headaches, no high breathing rates, feels good.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, also, Dr. Wolf, is the mysterious brown fluid continuing to leak from Mir?
MICHAEL FOALE, NASA Astronaut: I'm not sure David knows about that, but I could address it directly since we were the ones to observe it, with Anatoly and Pavel. About a week ago when we lost attitude control because of a computer failure that you probably know about, we observed some small sporadic particles, and they were brownish, that glistened in the sunlight, like snowflakes. And they were coming from the command module or the Spektr module. Since then we haven't seen those flakes, and we now think that they're related to a deposit, a residue of something, and I don't know what that is.
On the module back there, whenever the sun falls on it, and it does not fall there, except when we're in the wrong attitude--then something will boil or bubble up, and you see these flakes drifting away from the station. But we don't feel there's any alarm really to be raised about these particles that we see.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Michael Foale, stay with me. You've moved back into the shuttle, I understand. Are you relieved to be there?
Relieved to be going home.
MICHAEL FOALE: I am really relieved to know I'm going home. I have a commander who's going to take me home, Jim Wetherbee here, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my family. The relief is not--it's not a relief because it's something I've certainly expected, certainly planned for, and I know it's part of the process of coming to station Mir, as David has, going through your days, weeks, and months, and not trying too hard to worry about the end and when it's going to come. And then when it comes, you just accept it, and go home. And that's the way I have approached this flight, in a day by day fashion, and it's worked very well for me.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Michael Foale, staying with you, as you know, the issue of Mir's safety has become an important issue in Congress right now and Rep. Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, did not want David Wolf to be left behind when the shuttle leaves later this week. How do you answer those concerns, you who've been there through these very difficult four months?
MICHAEL FOALE: Well, I have only positive things to say about those concerns. What I mean is I appreciate the Senator's concern. I think the interest in safety--I think the very open discussion that the Senate and congressional interest has provoked at both NASA and in Russia has been very helpful. I think there has been progress as a result of all of this scrutiny by Congress; however, I always have felt safe here because behind us is a spacecraft called Soyuz, and the Soyuz, in any event, can allow us to leave the station in a real emergency. The problems of power management, too much condensation, things that have been reported, they are real problems that we have to deal with, but they're not life-threatening. They can make your life a little uncomfortable and if they went on for a long time, your life could become miserable, but we generally surpass these things and put them to the side.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Michael Foale, give us a sense of some of the experiments, or what you've learned from the collision, for example, that make these risks especially worth it.
"... the strength in this program is how you overcome the unexpected problems, not in how you execute all the things that you planned."
MICHAEL FOALE: Well, no one likes a collision, and I can't say I ever do that one again--however, once--the whole point in emergency big endeavors--and this is a great endeavor between our countries--Russia and America--in our doing this international program--you are going to have accidents. And the strength in this program is how you overcome the unexpected problems, not in how you execute all the things that you planned for. And I think the way we're overcoming this is really what we should be proud of.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Commander Wetherbee, looking forward, tell us what's to happen in the spacewalk. I believe it's tomorrow, right?
JAMES WETHERBEE, Atlantis Shuttle Commander: Yes, it is. For the first time, we'll have a non-American in an American spacesuit--with Vladimir Titov performing a spacewalk with Scott Perezinsky--two of my crew members. They will go outside and recover an experiment called MEEP--an environmental space measuring device that was deployed several flights ago on SCS76. They will bring that package back down to the Earth and investigators can study the effects of cosmic rays and ultraviolet radiation up in space in an effort to help us build a space station in the future. It also will deploy some Russian hardware that was sent to us relatively recently, only a couple of weeks before our launch. And I'm very impressed with the resourcefulness of the Russian space program in sending over the hardware, still not knowing fully where the leak is. But they've covered all the contingencies and they've given us enough hardware to deploy outside, so hopefully tried to isolate the leak in the Spektr module and recover its full capabilities. So we're really excited about that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Commander, you've brought a whole new computer or the parts to make the computer for Mir, is that right?
JAMES WETHERBEE: That's true, and here it is right here. Mike is going to lift it up and show it. It is a new guidance control computer for the Mir, which hopefully will help keep their attitude without losing their attitude.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David Wolf, tell me what your goals are for the next months. What key experiments are you going to be working on?
DAVID WOLF: The first order of business is to get the laboratory in full working order. We're well on the way. I wish you could see it. It's a wonderful micro gravity laboratory. We're working with three-dimensional tissue cultures the last few days, where we are able to grow three-dimensional tissues, which behave--will help us learn the principles of tissue engineering and are useful for our cancer research program and a whole slew of other experiments.
A scientific discovery of "astronomical" importance.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I understand you've already made some discovery just in your trip up there about these tissues.
DAVID WOLF: Well, I knew what to look for. Before I was an astronaut I worked on the team that built this experiment, and we had a group of theories on how these three-dimensional tissues should form and I was lucky enough--I gathered the whole crew together I was so excited when we actually saw this very delicate three-dimensional structure which kept form on Earth--and as soon as I just moved the culture vessel a little bit it just fell apart and was disrupted, showing how this very quiescent zero gravity environment allows us to build these three-dimensional tissues, which over time will solidify and give us the principles for our cancer research, research and tissue engineering program.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Dr. Wolf, in the time we have left, tell us what you're doing today. What kind of work are you doing? Are you bringing equipment in and out? Is that the main business of the day?
DAVID WOLF: Today, I'm assisting Wendy in organizing the laboratory, and I'm working with Mike extensively. I'm learning the details of this space station, which is just spectacular, I have to tell you. The guys are behind me right now eating lunch; it smells good in here. It's a friendly place. It's a hard-working place. It's everything you can imagine in a space station.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: As you know, your trip was very controversial here. Do you feel safe?
"... we have a lot of back-outs should things go wrong, and I feel very good about the mission."
DAVID WOLF: Yes, I do. I feel very safe. Anatoly and Pavel are two of the best cosmonauts in the world, and we have a good escape vehicle and a good orbiting vehicle, so we have a lot of back-outs should things go wrong, and I feel very good about the mission.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much, and good luck in these days ahead.