NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Terror in Space
Site Map

Q&A with Astronaut Jerry Linenger

Find out what the man who survived nearly five months 300 miles up thinks about everything from space exploration to the best way to wash your hair.

Live Event Q & As | List of Questions
Question: I understand that sometimes it's better to start from scratch than to fix that which is old and breaking. But why can't the Mir station be rebuilt by replacing modules? Like this, the new space station would have a base to begin from.

Serge, Basking Ridge, NJ

Answer: You ought to be a space engineer, because the people at NASA and over in Russia looked at the same concept. And essentially, metal over time suffers metal fatigue. And the metal on Mir, being 12 years old, traveling 18,000 miles an hour, and being bombarded by micro-meteorites and other space debris, has turned brittle and is no longer deemed structurally sound enough to add additional modules, or to take off modules and replace those modules. So, similar to an old automobile that, you know, you need to replace the muffler one week and the engine next week, and then pretty soon the chassis is rusting out, the Mir is much in that state of disrepair and is basically unsalvageable.

Question: What do you think the most critical crew habitat issues will be for a Mars mission, nine months out bound, nine months on the surface, nine months back?

Thanks from Paul in Lee City, Texas.

Answer: I think one is when you are out in space you have a profound sense of identification lag. It is going to be very hard to find compatible people that can live in a situation such as that. The second issue is going to be, once you return, whether physiologically you can stand up to gravity again and especially with bone density loss and some muscle at knee that you are going to face for being weightless for long period of times. Those are two major challenges.

Question: Do you think there are limitations to the complexities of systems that we can contemplate? What about the self-limiting behaviors that prevent a technician who suspects a problem from the O rings from mentioning their concerns to the "Challenger" launch crew?

Answer: I think there are definite limitations. I think you need to have checks and balances in any system. At NASA you have people constantly looking over other people's shoulders, double checking, triple checking, very good inventory control. But technology is a tough thing, and if you are going to be pushing the limits and pushing the envelope you are going to have problems from time to time, and you just hope that those aren't disastrous such as the O ring problem during "Challenger."

Question: What a unique perspective you must have about life on earth and the human condition. Thanks for your story, and have you developed claustrophobia?

From Peter in Wisconsin.

Answer: I do have a different perspective. I am a changed person now that I am back on the planet. After five months, I see a broader perspective, and when I see problems and conflicts, and, for example, flying over Bosnia, seeing down below, knowing there was a war going on from that perspective in space, you realize we're all in it together, and that some of our conflicts are very trivial, and we should all break down a lot of the barriers that we have between countries. We can reason on a personal level about conflicts with our families and friends.

Question: I am four years old. When you were my age, did you want to go into space like I hope to someday?

From Jonathan in Maine.

Answer: You are going to go to Mars someday; I can tell. It was when about actually 14 years old when I decided I wanted to go into space. I was watching the moon landings at that time, and I remember seeing the commentator, Walter Cronkite, being choked up and unable to talk, and I knew we were doing something important, something that counts for something, and I made up my mind on that day that I was going to be an astronaut. So you've got a jump start on me, and I think you are a prime candidates to go to Mars someday.

Question: How do you brush your hair in space without it standing up?

From Mandy.

Answer: My wife commented when I was in space that I was having bad hair days whenever she saw me. And so it's really a pretty tough task. For five months up there I could not cut my hair. The vacuum cleaner had broken, and should you cut your hair, the hair would float, and other people would be breathing the hair in. And so the basic thing I did—there is a no-rinse shampoo, and you lather up and you wipe it off, and you realize your hair is probably just as dirty, but it felt better, and I would sometimes just slick my hair down. On the other hand, it really didn't matter, because it was just myself and two astronauts in addition, and my appearance didn't matter all that much.

Question: How difficult was it to overcome the psychological problems of being away from friends, family, nearly everyone for five months?

From Keith in California.

Answer: I'd served in the navy for 20 years, I'd been on aircraft carriers, been out in many isolated situations, but I can tell you, none of that compared at all to the experience of being cut off and isolated when you are off the planet, and it was a much harder psychological adjustment than I had anticipated. I was able to keep a steady keel by more or less mapping out a calendar and looking and knowing that there was an endpoint to it, and then every day just trying to rise to the occasion and stay positive. The work and the sense of accomplishment helps you get through the isolation.

Question: Have any new methods been developed to combat the physical atrophy due to decreased gravity while in orbit? Will these be used on the international space stations?

From Anthony in Indianapolis.

Answer: When I was in space for the five months, I worked very, very hard to retain my muscle strength, and especially my bone density. In spite of my efforts of working on a treadmill two one- hour periods each day, I still lost about 12% of my bone mass and in my lower spine and in my hips. And since my return to the planet, I've been working very hard physically to try to regain some of that bone strength. In the international space station, we will have treadmill exercise devices.

As far as the bone density problem, we may have to start, beginning with pharmaceutical intervention, taking some medications very similar to the medications that older people use for osteoporosis.

Question: When first in orbit, did you experience much motion sickness, and if so, how long until you were acclimated to weightlessness?

From Mike in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Answer: I'm one of the 10% of the people that go into space and feel absolutely perfect. I feel like I have lived there all my life, and so I did not have any motion sickness. I did not have backaches; I did not have headaches; I did not have problems sleeping at night. Probably 50% of the people that go into space the first day, day and a half or two days, feel very nauseated, and of that 50%, maybe 10% or 20% actually physically vomit, so space motion sickness is still a problem that's with us. With time, most people overcome it, but I have seen crew members that do not feel well for the entire ten-day mission. Before I volunteered for five months in space, I checked my own physiology out on shorter shuttle flights, and found that I was one of the lucky ones that feel perfect in space.

Question: How does it feel to have no gravity? Is it fun?

From Eric in Puerto Rico.

Answer: It is totally freeing. You go in the shuttle at least from a three-G pull where I feel like I have three people lying on my chest in, and in a split second my own body weight, along with these three people's, leaves me, and you are floating free, doing somersaults, barrel rolls. It's just absolutely an incredible sensation, and it was fun right up to the very end of the five months. I never got over the thrill of floating and flying.

Question: How do you maintain your friendships with your Russian colleagues? Are you still in touch?

Dawn in Bronson, Michigan

Answer: It's a good question. Actually, the general experience of cosmonauts that have lived together for months at a time, upon landing, is to stay away from each other. And if you think about it, that's probably a very normal reaction of human beings. You've been stuck in a school bus for five months looking only at two other faces. And when you get back to the planet, the last thing you want to see are those two other faces. So I did go to Russia, and I was part of a welcoming parade where we were all welcome back to Earth. But, since then I really don't communicate with them that much. But, I think, you know a few years from now it's going to be a lot of fun rehashing the old stories.

Question: Jerry Leninger, Craig, a friend and co-worker at the G.M. tech center wanted to know, is there any noise that you can hear out there in space?

From Ollie in Detroit, Michigan.

Answer: Hello, and greetings to Craig. When you are inside the space station itself, it's very normal sort of sound-carrying. You have your own atmosphere that you've made; you have pressure. You are in normal clothing, and you speak like you normally do. On Space Station Mir, there is a lot of background noise from turning fans and generators, but generally, it's like talking inside, say, an automobile factory. Ordinarily, when you get out of the space station and go into space itself in the vacuum of space, sound does not conduct. We use radios in order to communicate once we are doing a spacewalk. One thing that I found interesting during my spacewalk is working the cameras as I was taking photographs of the earth. I would push on the shutter, and something didn't seem right. I thought the camera was broken. I pushed again, and then I finally realized what the problem was. I did not get any sound feedback that you would normally hear when you push the shutter of a camera, and then I kind of said, "Okay, Jerry, you know, use your brain. It's a vacuum out here; you are not going to hear the sound." So in the vacuum of space, sound does not conduct. Within the spacecraft the sound does conduct.

Question: When I see pictures of Mir, Hubble, and even the older photos of the astronaut on the moon, I notice that the sky is completely black. Why don't the stars show up in these photographs?

Answer: Again, the stars are out there. Some of it is a problem with capturing it with the film. For example, on Mir, I had to take very slow-speed film. 100 A.S.A. was the fastest film I could carry because of radiation damage over the five months, and so part of it is a limitation of photographic technique. In actuality, when you are on the dark side of a planet and you look out into the heavens, the stars are absolutely incredible. You are seeing the entire sky. Things are much more distinct. You can see the planets very clearly. In my case, Hale Bopp comet looked like a flashlight lighting up the sky, and so the stars are out. There, you probably see four times the number of stars that you would see if you were on planet Earth, having to look through the atmosphere. The one thing that looked different is none of the stars twinkle, because you do not have the abrasion of the atmosphere, and the reason why Hubble was so successful is because it gets a very, very clear look at the heavens.

Question: What is the ISS going to be used for besides replacing Mir?

Weyman, San Francisco, CA

Answer: ISS is really the advanced version of the Mir. And it's going to be used for a lot of research, doing a lot of the experiments that we can only do in space, because of the micro gravity environment where everything floats. And an example of that would be growing protein crystals that, if you were to try to grow them on earth, the weight of the gravity, the weight of the crystal would deform the crystal as it was growing. Where in space, because it's floating, you can grow a perfect crystal. And then you can look at those crystals. And by looking at the crystal, you can determine whether—You can design, for example, new medicines and things like that from the crystals.

Question: Can you describe in words how fire appears in a zero-G environment?

From Erik in Bloomington.

Answer: I think I am the astronaut extraordinaire when it comes to fire. We had an actual fire on board Mir, about a three-foot flame, melting metal. It lasted about 14 minutes, smoke billowing out—a very, very dangerous situation. I also observed fire inside a controlled glove box which isolated the smoke and flame from the rest of the space station. And fire behaves somewhat differently than it would down on the ground. For example, a flame is not flame-shaped. It's not a teardrop; it is a sphere in space. Also, you need to get air moving around a fire in order to feed the fire, and in space, because warm air does not rise, there is not a refreshing puff of fresh air coming into the base of the flame. And the flame will put itself out unless you have a fan or a wind tunnel, in the case of a controlled experiment, blowing air into the flame to provide the oxygen. So fire does behave differently in space, and in general, because of zero-gravity, a lot of things behave differently. It did feel funny.

Question: What is your opinion of John Glenn's current space flight? If in 36 years you are given the opportunity to return to space, would you go?

From Nancy in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Answer: Nancy, I would go in a heartbeat. The thing you don't see for an astronaut getting ready for a flight is the year or two years, or, in my case, three years of getting ready for the Russian Mir mission of very, very tough work, hard study, long nights, and really a dedication to the task at hand. If John Glenn needed a substitute yesterday and they called me up, I would fly down to the Cape and jump into the rocket in no time. And I, in general, as far as John Glenn's flight, I'm excited. I was at the Air and Space Museum in Washington. The place was jammed. People were on their feet cheering as they watched the screen and yelling, "Go, shuttle, go." And, you know, I think it's a great time to just savor the moment and how far we've come in the space program.

Question: How are you selected to be on the Spaceship Mir?

Alan in Spokane, Washington.

Answer: I was a full-fledged astronaut and had flown on the shuttle. I had a background in medicine and research. And I was looking for an even greater adventure then what I had on shuttle. And from among the astronauts, the chief of the astronaut office called me into the office and said that I was their first choice for one of the Mir missions. And I talked to my wife, we talked it over and decided that it was the type of challenge that I wanted. And that's how I got selected.

Question: Candidly, how serious was the fire aboard Mir? At any time, did you consider it a life-threatening situation?

From Norm in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Answer: Norm, it was an extremely dangerous fire—three-foot flames, sparks flying out the end. It was an oxygen canister, had an oxygen slurry chemical mix, and it had everything a fire desires: it had oxygen, fuel; it was melting metal. You couldn't see the fingers in front of your face for about an hour. During the fire and after the fire, we went through three fire extinguishers, and we were still unable to get the fire out. 14 minutes later, the fire was out—definitely a life- threatening situation. We donned respirators, and without those, we would have suffocated.

Question: Dear Jerry, how important was the amateur radio link between earth and Mir in getting you information about activities on Earth?

From Myles in Massachusetts.

Answer: Great question. Unfortunately on Mir, our ham radio was sporadic in operation. And unfortunately, during my stay on Mir, we were so swamped with system breakdowns, fires, as we just talked about, and day-to-day operations in space, that I did not have enough time to use that ham radio. But it is interesting to know that my entire time in space, the only communication I had was with mission control in Moscow, which only speaks Russian. And when you did get a ham radio call, even with trivial event like the basketball tournament results, it was always something that made me feel connected again back to the planet, and especially back to my country, the United States.

Question: Do you believe that the U.S. Congress will have the fortitude to maintain and fund a station that may have life-threatening problems such as those you encountered on Mir?

From Robert in Virginia.

Answer: Robert, I think—I hope—that our country realized the value of our space program. It's been technology pushing the limits and going out there and adventuring. I think it's part of human nature to keep pushing the limits and to explore. I don't think the Mir space station detracts from that in any way. Mir was up there 12 years. Things were breaking down. We learned a lot of lessons, and lessons that I hope... Mistakes, I guess, were made along the way, and I don't think we'll repeat those mistakes in an international station. So you have to do everything a step at a time and improve incrementally, and I think the next one will be a big improvement.

Question: How much do astronauts make? Could they get extra pay when in space?

From Frank in Michigan.

Answer: Frank, good question. I do not get any extra pay. I got my normal Navy salary, and an administrative glitch made it that I got an extra dollar, two dollars a day, because I was away on duty, and the Navy pays you something of a per diem, and the bottom-line limit was two dollars. I probably could have struck for hazardous-duty pay, but I didn't. The cosmonauts have a different system. They get paid depending on what was accomplished during the mission. And so if there was a planned spacewalk and the spacewalk did not go as planned, their pay would get docked. I found that system to be a very bad system, sort of a carrot-and-stick system, and the reason it is bad is that when you have problems, the tendency is for the cosmonauts to try to cover up those problems so that it doesn't reflect in their pay. And in Russia, and the economic situation there, that pay and the bonus was very important to the cosmonauts, and was probably an undue pressure on them to not report problems that would have been better reported so that the problems get fixed and that future space travelers don't have to face those same problems. So I kind of like the basic-pay system. I'm representing my country. I'm doing my duty, and my Navy pay was just fine.

Question: Were there any features of the international space station that were redesigned as a result of what was learned from the accidents on the Russian Mir?

From John.

Answer: All the things that happened on Mir are being looked at very carefully. One of the concrete examples is that we moved the oxygen generating system on the international space station further away from any other flammable materials as a precaution. We also changed out the igniter system inside the solid fuel backup oxygen generator system on the future international space station to a more reliable design in order to prevent any fires in the future. So hopefully that was the last big fire we'll have in space. Of course we had the Apollo One launchpad fire, which killed three of the astronauts and resulted in us realizing you don't want 100% oxygen inside cockpits; you need it grounded. And from my Mir experience, I think we learned that you need to be very, very cautious with any solid fuel generators.

Question: Jerry, I watched you on NOVA this week and felt for you. Do you believe the Russians are risking lives for the sake of their national pride? Will they be team players in space? I'll be reading your book when it comes out.

Robert in Long Valley, New Jersey.

Answer: Thanks Robert, for watching the show. I'll tell you, though, it's still one great adventure in space. And you see the parts of the high drama and the danger. And that particular show highlighted just the life-threatening situations. But, in general, it's magnificent up in space. The Russians and the Americans have worked very well together. There is a certain amount of pride that the Russians have just as we have in our own space program. If you look at John Glenn's launch, there were hundreds of thousands of people there to watch it. But, I don't think the pride will get in the way of getting the job done on the international space station.

Question: How do you go to the bathroom in space?

From Adam in Georgia.

Answer: That's the most common question I ever get. Actually, to move around in space—let me start this way—to move around in space, it literally takes fingertips pushing off. If you were to jump like Michael Jordan, you would go through the ceiling of the station. To actually get to the ceiling, all you do is rise up on your toes. That much force is enough to propel you, and so in order to contain any liquid urine, it takes a very little amount of suction. And essentially we have a long hose with a valve and a fan. You turn the fan on, open the valve; there is a little conical device that you put on the end of the hose. You urinate at that point, close the valve down, shut the fan off; the urine is collected. We then take the urine, purify it into water, and that water is pure enough to drink, although cosmonauts and astronauts don't enjoy drinking that water that was derived from our urine, so we take that water, which is of course made up of H20, go through a hydraulic process, split the hydrogen off. It is an explosive gas. We open a vacuum valve, vent that to space, and the oxygen that is remaining is what we use to breathe. And so we take our urine, turn it to water, split the water, and use the oxygen to breathe. It's a very closed ecosystem on a space station.

Question: Rather than Mars, why don't we go back to the moon and establish colonies there? We know the way; it is closer and a lot less expensive than the planets.

From Alan.

Answer: Alan, you've convinced me. I am of the same slant that you are. I think going back to the moon, especially to the dark side of the moon, planting a telescope there to look out into the sky would get us greater astronomy science results than even the Hubble space telescope, which is still under the sunlit skies from time to time. I think going to the moon makes a lot of sense. It is a much shorter trip, and we could build a very nice colony on the moon, and start mining some of the helium 3 off the moon. Now, we found some water source there. So I don't argue with that, with that premise of going to the moon. It might be the next logical step before we move on to Mars.

Question: How did it feel when you came back to earth?

From Ryan in Chicago, Illinois.

Answer: I had decided that I was going to walk off that shuttle or I was going to crawl off, but there was no way the people were going to carry me off on a stretcher. I felt like I had overcome a lot of difficulties over the five months, and I wasn't going to give up at the end. I Felt similar, I guess, to a runner running a marathon that's been training for a year and twists their ankle at the 25-mile point, and they say, "I'm going to make it to the finish line whether it kills me or not." When I did get back, I got out of the parachute, stood up, felt like I was doing somersaults backwards. As I turned my head to the back, my inner ear had adjusted to space and was not used to gravity again. I felt like I had about a 200-pounder on my shoulders, but I was able to get up, able to walk off the orbiter. There is nothing better than fresh air in your face, the smell of the earth. I learned to not take things for granted that I had taken for granted in the past, so it was absolutely tremendous coming back, but gravity is a heavy load.

Question: Shouldn't the old Mir be preserved, even if it's not made part of the new international space station by being lifted in a higher orbit and not down into a fatal orbit that will assure it will crash and burn up?

Answer: I think you always need to know when to retire something, and when to retire it with dignity. Mir has much metal stress over the years, parts that are breaking down. They looked very hard at the different modules on Mir and the basic structure of Mir to see whether it could stand up to some expansion or to build on to it. And in fact, when those analyses came back, it was deemed that the Mir is not safe to continue to use into the future as a platform, to build new parts on to it. And so I think Mir has gotten to the point of, if you will, an old car that is not worth repairing. You are much better off trading it in and getting a newer model.

Question: What kind of physician are you? And what are your present daily activities like?

Joe in Vancouver, Canada.

Answer: Well, Joe, I'm actually kind of a different sort of physician than the normal. I started off in aerospace medicine. I went on and got board certified in preventive medicine. And then I moved into the research arena where I was doing mainly research in the area of sports medicine. Right now, since leaving NASA, I have stopped really practicing medicine. I'm doing some speaking. And I'm spending time with my family. I'm also recovering physically from the Mir mission. And it took me a good solid year to finally get back to 100% normal, where I can go out and bicycle for 85 miles or run a marathon again.

Question: Did your experience on the Mir bring you any spiritual insights?

Peggy in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Answer: Peggy, that's a very popular question. I've heard that question many times. I can tell you, I never got struck by any thunder bolts. But, when you're up in the heavens looking down at the Earth, you realize that there is a grand plan. When I was running on the treadmill, I'd close my eyes sometimes. I could feel my father's presence, who had passed away back in 1990. So, when you're up there, you do have a spiritual awakening of sorts.

Question: When Mir will plunge out of orbit and crash into Earth, won't it create a safety hazard to people as Spacelab did in the 80's.

From Atis in Singapore.

Answer: Let me first say that your country is beautiful from space. The whole of southeast Asia is vibrant with the beautiful greenery of the jungles, contrasted with the beautiful water, is one of the prettiest sites on the planet. As for Mir coming in, we need to do it intelligently, and it goes back to when I said you need to know how to retire with dignity, and the dignified way to bring Mir in is to evacuate the space station in a planned manner, fire the thrusters at the right time and de-orbit the space station so that it lands harmlessly in the middle of probably the Pacific Ocean, which is the biggest target on the Earth. They are looking at doing that. It is such a massive structure that there will be parts of Mir hitting the planet. It will not disintegrate reentering the atmosphere, so they are looking at that very carefully, and they would like to de-orbit the very gangly non- aerodynamic structure in as controlled a manner as possible and probably aim for the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Question: Now that we have a 77-year-old man in space, do you think we should send an eight-year-old? Also, do you think the new space station should have families on board?

From Charlie in Georgia.

Answer: That's a great question. Let's see. An eight-year-old? I think you need to go to school a bit more and learn more things before you are probably ready. The other thing is you are still growing and developing, and probably weightlessness is not the best thing for you, for your health even. In the future, I'm sure that there will be colonies, perhaps on the moon, perhaps on Mars, and there will be family units there. I think that's probably, you know, beyond the year 2000, but in that century, there is a good chance that those sorts of things will happen, but probably not in the near future.

Question: Did you ever feel that you took a questionable chance with the decision to go to the fixed space station Mir in order not to miss your chance to go to space? Do you think you would go with the information you know now of the condition of the craft?

Andrew in Jackson, Mississippi.

Answer: Good question, Andrew. During the time that I went to Mir, things were pretty stable. So, my decision was not a hard one. It was during my stay on Mir that systems began to break down. The fire, the near miss, and all the problems on board Mir began. And so it was really the people after me that had to make the decision, especially Mike Foale of whether it was—Mike Foale and NASA, in general, whether it was safe to send other astronauts. They do kind of a risk-benefit analysis. And they figured the benefit was still worth the risk. And Mike followed me.

Question: What do astronauts eat for breakfast? Is it good?

Alison in San Francisco, California.

Answer: The food is much improved over space food of old. Although we still suck a lot of things out of tubes, we have some tubes that resemble toothpaste tubes that we squeeze and eat the pureed green beans, for example. Breakfast was usually a borscht—Russian borscht type of soup. And I'd eat really nothing that resembled anything like I've ever eaten before for breakfast. I never had eggs and bacon, I never had cereal. Instead I'd drink soup. I'd eat shrimp, you know—whatever dehydrated foods. So, the breakfasts were probably the worst meal of the day. But, nonetheless, we had enough food to stay alive.

Question: Do you see yourself as conquering space? Do you think that it is a viable option for tourism to turn to next, and is it the ultimate escapism?

From Emily in England.

Answer: I definitely did not conquer space. I do feel that I helped to colonize space. We're at the very beginnings of that, and I think I contributed a lot, as did Michael Foale, a native son of your country. We still have a long ways to go before we have a permanent foothold in space. It's still definitely the frontier. As far as escaping, you usually want to escape from something that is not pleasant, and I can tell you that Planet Earth is extremely pleasant. The fresh air, the smells, the colors, the water, the beauty of our planet is absolutely incredible, and when you gaze out to other systems, you realize that the earth is something very, very special, and that we're privileged to be living on this planet.

Question: How did the shower work in Mir?

From Christina in Boston, Massachusetts.

Answer: Christina, actually there is no shower on Mir. They have tried showers on different space stations, and they have been very unsuccessful. Just think about it for a second: you are in space; everything floats. You get inside of, say, a closed compartment, the size of a phone booth; the water shoots at you. First of all, the water is going to hit you and thrust you off to the side, so you are going to have to brace yourself; and secondly, the water is going to start floating. If you are in a closed space and the water is floating, you are going to drown in the shower. How they did get around that is to use an oxygen tank and a regulator much like a scuba diver would use. When you get in the shower before you turn the water on, you put the mouthpiece in our mouth and breathe the oxygen, then take the shower. The problem is the water is floating everywhere within the compartment. It took about four hours to get the water sopped up. So from my five months on Mir, we did not have a shower. I took sponge baths at best, and so it was about five months of no haircut, no shower, and it was good to get back home and get cleaned up again.

Question: Do you feel that a consortium of 16 different nations can effectively work together to build a safe and efficient international space station based on your experiences on Mir?

From Tamar in New York City, New York.

Answer: It's going to be very, very difficult to get 16 nations together and to get the job done. On the other hand, I think it's the way to go. I think it's what we need to do. Again, when you are in space, looking down on the planet, you realize we're all in it together, and we should all work together to accomplish a goal, and going into space together is a worthy goal that can unite all the people of the earth. So I'm a firm believer that the barriers can be overcome on space station Mir. I was with a person that was a Mig fighter pilot; I was in the Navy flying off aircraft carriers—we worked together fine. If we can do it, I'm sure the other nation of the world can do it.

Question: Considering the problems encountered during your stay on Mir, do you have any reservations about the design, integrity, and operation of the proposed Russian modules? What are your feelings regarding the professionalism and ability of the Russian astronauts, and do you have any regrets from your resignation from NASA?

From Norm in Manford, Oklahoma.

Answer: I think the Russians know how to build good, dependable, especially mechanical engineering-type systems. And at this point, we're looking and working very closely together, looking over their shoulders, and I'm sure that the components, all the components of the space station will be checked out and will be reliable. You have to remember, again, the Russian space station Mir, because of economic difficulties in Russia, they have had to extend the life of that station probably beyond what they should have, to be honest with you, and it was definitely beyond their original 2,000 design criteria of lasting about five years, and it got up to 12 years. When you are more than double the time of the design, when things start breaking down, it's probably not that much of a surprise. As far as regrets, I don't have any regrets. I just resigned recently. I'm in sort of a two-year sabbatical before I make up my mind what do you want to do next. On the other hand, when I left NASA, the final handshake I got was from the director who said, "Jerry, when you would like to fly again, you are always welcome back here." And so I have that one in my back pocket, and I may get tempted somewhere down the line. Now I've got a little one-year-old at home and a three-year-old, and my wife is pregnant again, so I'm content with being with my family.

Question: Do you have any final thoughts for our audience on space exploration?

From NOVA in Boston.

Answer: First of all, before I even answer that, I just want to thank Nova for having me today, and it is, you know... I can see the world is a smaller place now. We're all talking with people from all over the world on the Internet, and this is fantastic, and I think it brings us all closer together and helps us realize we all are one on the planet. Space exploration is just one fantastic endeavor. I was very, very proud personally to be a part of that, and it was an absolute privilege to represent my country, and really the people of the earth, in that endeavor. I think we need to always push the limits. We can't be afraid of venturing forth and going out into the unknown, and by doing that, I think we all gain, and I think our children and the future will gain from it. So I think it's a very worthy cause. I was proud to be a part of it, and I know 40 years from now, when my own sons have their own children, I'll probably have my grandchild on my lap and say, "You should have seen your daddy back in 1999, or your granddad; I was really out there exploring, pushing the limits." and I'll always be proud of that, and I am proud of what the human beings have done in space.

Photo of Jerry Linenger Beginning in January, 1997, astronaut Jerry Linenger spent nearly five months on board the Russian Space Station Mir. During that time, he and two Russian crewmembers surmounted many problems—the most severe fire ever aboard an orbiting spacecraft, a near-collision with a resupply ship, loss of electrical power, and more. Following his return to the Earth, Linenger retired from NASA. Linenger, who is also a physician, is at what he refers to as "half-time" in his life. He has recently completed a book, called "Off the Planet," which is due out in mid-1999.

Q&A | Tour of Mir | Day in the Life
Next Space Station | Mishaps | Resources
Teacher's Guide | Transcript | Site Map | Terror Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2000