Johnson Space Center
Return to Johnson Space Center home page Return to Johnson Space Center home page


NASA Shuttle-Mir Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript

John E. Blaha
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
San Antonio, TX – 24 August 1998

Wright: Today is August 24, 1998. We're speaking with Colonel John Blaha in San Antonio, Texas. Rebecca Wright, Andrea Hollman, and Paul Rollins. We're here with the Shuttle-Mir Oral History Project, and we certainly thank you, sir, for taking time out of your schedule to visit with us.

Blaha: I'm happy to visit with you.

Wright: We know that it's not quite been two years since you returned home. What are your feelings now after being back on the Earth this amount of time? When you look back at that time up on the Mir, what are your first thoughts of being there?

Blaha: I thought it was a good program. I thought we probably completed one-half of the mission. The reason for the engagement, I thought we completed very well. Another half of the mission I don't think we got as much out of it as we could. That doesn't mean that's bad; that's just an observation.

I'm a little sorry that the current Russian economy seems to be slowing down the start of Phase Two. I think the Russians have a lot of knowledge on long-duration space flight that either we didn't capture properly in Phase One, or somewhere in the political realm we didn't realize how to organize the Phase Two Project to capitalize on their knowledge. So I'm disappointed that a very minute funding problem in Russia is holding up the start of Phase Two. So I'm a little disappointed.

Wright: We know you spent many years training, and you spent many years as an astronaut. Was there something specific that caused you to move away from that career in search of a new one?

Blaha: Oh, yes. As far as that goes, no, I had always wanted to be an astronaut, served fifteen years in the Air Force flying airplanes, and then had the opportunity in 1980 to go to Houston, so I did. I look back at that and say I had seventeen wonderful years in NASA. I'm fifty-six years old this week. You can't continue to fly in space forever. I had five very good missions, I enjoyed my career there, I think nothing but the best for NASA and the space program, and I will always support it for years to come. But it was time to stop. Actually, my wife and I started thinking about that in 1991, about coming to San Antonio, and, in fact, came over and were looking for homes over here for five or six years. So we knew we were eventually going to do it, we just didn't know when.

So after STS-43 in '91, which was my third mission, we thought about it very seriously, and then we decided--or I decided, I guess--Brenda always wanted to do it--I decided, no, I hadn't had my fill yet, so we ended up doing STS-53 [STS-58], which was my fourth mission. After that, we thought about it again in November of '93. We seriously thought about coming over here. Then I thought, "No, I want to go fly on the Mir Space Station." So that was something I still wanted to do.

A year ago, a little over a year ago, year and a half ago, we talked again about it, and we decided we wanted to do it. The idea of coming to San Antonio didn't have anything to do with Mir-Shuttle; it was something that had been in our minds for a long time. It was just the right time to do it when we decided a little over a year ago to stop NASA and come over here.

Wright: What made you decide to pursue the route to the Mir?

Blaha: That actually started in 1991. In 1991, October, Brenda and I went to an Association of Space Explorers Conference in Berlin--that was our first one--and there we ran into a number of cosmonauts, not that I spoke any Russian, but through interpreters talked to them a little bit. I saw a video at the end of the conference on the Mir Space Station that some Russians showed those who wanted to look at it. It wasn't even a formal part of the program at the conference. I saw that and I remember I came back--I think I saw Richard Truly in November. He was the NASA administrator at the time. I said, "Dick, I can't believe that we keep talking about building a space station. There's a real one up in orbit that the Russians have. Why don't we work some sort of exchange where we'd fly some Russians on the Shuttle, and we would fly some Americans on their space station? Wouldn't that help us get some understanding of a space station and help us with our program?" So, for me, that idea started in October of '91.

Wright: And how did it evolve?

Blaha: Eventually--well, I remember when Norm [Norman] Thagard was leaving Houston, and that was in January of '94, to head over to Star City to start training. I remember at an astronaut office meeting literally saying, because I also saw that Bonnie Dunbar was going, and at that time even Jerry Linenger had been told he was going to do that, remember even saying at an astronaut office meeting, "Aren't we let somebody other than just mission specialists do this? I mean, can't pilots also go fly on the Mir Space Station?" So I was even saying it then, and telling people I was interested.

I guess it was in July of '94 then that I was told that if I really wanted to do it, I could do it. I guess August of '94 then that's when NASA sent Shannon [Lucid] and I out to Monterey to start learning the Russian language, and then we were in the system.

Wright: You spent quite a bit of time with Shannon for the next few years, or a couple of years, training together?

Blaha: Yes. As it turns out, I spent a lot of time with her, because it was the summer of '90 that we started training for what turned out to be an August of '91 Space Shuttle flight, which was my third flight, and I think it was her third mission. So we trained for a year and flew STS-43 together. No sooner had we come off of that flight than we were both assigned to train and fly on STS-53 [STS-58] together. And then within, I don't know, six months later we both started the Russian program together. So she and I had actually been together since the summer of '90 training on the same crew together and in the simulators together. So we've been together a long time.

Wright: How does the training differ at the Gagarin Training Center compared to what you've done for Shuttle flight?

Blaha: Maybe I should categorize three major differences. Every time I trained for a mission for a Space Shuttle, I did it in the English language, which is my native language. When I trained to fly on the Mir, I did it in the Russian language, which is not my native language. It wasn't a Russian course; it was a course in the Mir communication system or the reaction control system of the Soyuz. So that was a difference. A big difference, first of all, was the medium that the course was taught in. One was English and one was Russian, a significant difference.

The second difference was the Russian--I guess I would call it their philosophy of education. In America, we do things, I now know, the easy way, and we do it the easy way at a cost. We pay more dollars to do it the easy way. Since we have money, I guess we can do it that way. Specifically, we use a lot of simulation to train with and a lot of technology to train with. We go and sit in lots of simulators for year after year after year after year, literally. I've been in the Shuttle mission simulator since 1981, and we sit in the simulator for hours and hours and hours, and that's how we train. It's a very good training program, but it's simulators and it's costly, costly. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying that's our--and we didn't have any exams. No one ever gives you a test. Nothing. You, as a crew, have to perform, but I've never seen anyone fail in my seventeen years there.

I'm not criticizing it. It's just an easy way to learn--easy way. This is my second major difference. One was language, English-Russian, and the second one is what I call the philosophy of education. In America, we do it with money and we do it easy. In Russia, they do it the old-fashioned way. The human being takes a piece of chalk and they go to a chalkboard, and you're sitting as one student or two students, no more. That piece of chalk goes to the chalkboard, and a man starts teaching you a particular system in a Soyuz or on Mir, and you take notes and you ask questions. When his course is over with, the Russians have another team, and they're the experts who design that particular system. Let's say it's the Mir com system. Well, the communications experts from Energia come about a month after that little course is over with, they'd make a little semi-circle, you sit down as a student, and you get an oral exam in the communication system of the Mir.

Of course, again, the media for all of this is the Russian language. And they actually grade you, and there's a pass/fail. So you're under a lot of pressure in that system for two reasons. One, you're doing the whole thing in your second language, and, two, you're an American in Star City, Russian, or Johnson Space Center in Russia, and you don't want America to look bad. So what does that mean? That means that individual person going through that training in Star City is under significant stress and pressure. That's a second huge difference.

Maybe I won't continue. I'll let you ask your next question, but those are two significant differences. The only thing I will say is this. In the end, both systems end up with a highly trained crew. Both completely different training systems result in the Russians do very well flying on their Mir Space Station and we do very well flying our Space Shuttle. The two things are also very different, the missions are very different. That piece maybe NASA hasn't picked up on yet, and that's the 50 percent I think they missed in the Phase One Program, but they will in Phase Two with their own Space Station.

But there's a third thing that's different. The third thing that's different is, flying the Space Shuttle and training to fly on a Space Shuttle mission, NASA does very, very well. It's an excellent system, and I can do nothing but applaud it. The way you train and the way you operate with the control center for a space station, we will learn, is different. Inside of NASA today, the system doesn't know that. In other words, in the Mir-Shuttle Program, NASA learned a tremendous amount of information on how to manifest a Space Shuttle to train a crew on a Space Shuttle to go to a space station, do a rendezvous[,] dock, transfer equipment over, transfer equipment back. The scientists learned, gained some insight into experiments on a space station for four and a half months, which is different than a Shuttle. So we learned, because we were used to the Shuttle, and the Shuttle was controlled--there's a reason for this--the Shuttle was controlled from Houston, Texas. So that whole 50 percent of that mission we learned well, and everything we learned will pass back in spades when we have our own space station.

What we didn't learn a whole lot from was when the hatch closed on a Space Shuttle, and one American is now there, and the Space Shuttle left, and the American is now sitting there with two Russians for a four-, four-and-a-half-month, five-, six-month mission on a space station controlled out of Russia, and that whole portion of the mission was trained in Russia, see, not in the Houston Space Center. We [NASA] didn't learn a whole lot about that. [The 7 Americans who flew on the Mir did.] It's maybe because it was controlled in Russia. The training part was controlled in Russia, the vehicle was a Russian vehicle, and the command and control during the mission was out of Russia, out of their control center. So [overall] I feel that we learned 50 percent very well [the Space Shuttle part of the mission to Mir] The other 50 percent [the long mission on the Mir] I don't think we learned anywhere near [as much]. I don't even know what to say, maybe 5, 10 percent of what we could have learned. But we [NASA] will learn when we are in our space station.

So when you asked me about training, let me just emphasize. Russian-English; the old-fashioned way of teaching versus a little costlier simulator, easy way, no test [no oral examinations]; and the third major subject is there's a significant difference to training and flying a long-duration space flight from a short one.

For a number of years, from '91, '92, '93, '94, I was going to Association of Space Explorers Conferences, and I listened to Russian[s], and I listened to them through all my training in Star City. I couldn't wait to return from my mission, go back to Star City, which I did a year ago March, and debriefed with my two crewmates, and tell them there wasn't anything that much different about a short flight and a long flight. See, I used to think they were saying, "We're Russian. We know something you [Americans] don’t know."

So I now very much understand why many Americans still don't understand that, all the way from Frank Culbertson--he doesn't understand that. And there are many, many people in the whole [NASA program who don’t understand the implications of a long duration space flight]--the only people who understand that are the [ 7 ] crew members who flew with the Russians and the hatch closed and they were left on the Mir, and who did the training in Star City. All the other people don't know this. It's like we have a small group of people on a little island who know something and I don't feel that the people who don't know it are bad, because I used to be like them.

Wright: Was Shannon able to provide you some valuable information before you took her place on Mir?

Blaha: She did. But all through my debrief--and this I never understood, to this day I don't understand it, I don't know, I guess, I don't know--in my view, I didn't get a real good handover. I never understood that. So when I'm halfway through my Mir flight and I realized I didn't get a good handover, I never understood it. And I don't mean that's bad, I know everybody's different. But I've been with Shannon for a long time on 43 and 50 [58]. In fact, I was [the STS-43 and STS-58] mission commander. [She was a crew member who I helped; and she helped me on those missions.] So I would use the word I'm "disappointed." In fact, I'll never quite understand that. She gave me a handover, but I didn't think it was a very full handover. It's not what I would do for my brother if I were living in a place on a mountaintop somewhere, and you were my best buddy, or my brother was coming, and he was now going to take over this place. I would give him a thorough checkout from the place before I left.

You can ask Jerry [Linenger], as a result of this, when I realized this, I went out of my way to do what I called "make it better." I started writing training memos to the ground to Jerry, to Mike [Foale], to Dave [Wolf], to Wendy [Lawrence], where every two or three weeks when I thought, "Gosh, boy, there's a whole lot of things I just learned that one way or the other I didn't learn in Star City." [I sent the information in an email to the ground.] And I think the language gap has a lot to do with that. So I wrote them all down and would send these e-mails to the ground so they could all hear it now and be thinking about it on the ground before they arrived at Mir. So I did that. I started talking to the whole system at NASA from the Mir through e-mail saying, "You must give me time to adequately have a handover to Jerry Linenger when he gets here. So take these things out of the [five day timeline], so that he and I have time, because I have so much I need to show him."

In the end, I was even disappointed when the real five days came for Jerry and I to hand over, because I didn't think we still had enough time. We had a lot more time [compared to my experience with Shannon], and I was able to tell him a lot of things, but I still didn't think it was adequate. So when I landed, I got together with our flight-planning people, and I showed them, "When Jerry hands over to Mike, see this thing here. Give that to the Space Shuttle commander. Don't make Mike do that. I want Mike [and Jerry to have that time together]. See what you have Jerry doing there [in the timeline]. Don't have Jerry doing that. Give that to Vasily Sabalev [phonetic], the Mir commander who's going to be there. Give that to him." In other words, I worked very hard to get Jerry and Mike what I called "time together" on orbit during those five days, in addition to what we'd even [what Jerry and I had in our handover timeline]. [I and the Russians know the value of a good handover between long duration crew members on orbit.]

By the way, the two Russian cosmonauts, after the Shuttle left and Shannon left and they left, they said to me, "John, you all ought to have a better handover. You all don't seem to have caught up with what you ought to do on a space station with a handover." That's some of the things we talked about. And they told me all the things they did when a Soyuz crew came up, and how they handled it. So it's an area that I would say, in long-duration space flight, an on-orbit handover is like money in the bank. It's like gold. And if you optimize the handover for the long person who is going to be there, you could even save tons of money in training on the ground, like in spades. I could go into it in detail, and I debriefed NASA lot on this, but I don't think anything ever happened. But anyway, you asked me about my handover with Shannon. I didn't think it was good, and I told you what I tried to do to fix it after that.

One day NASA, when it has more of its crew members on its Space Station--see, NASA, again, doesn't own the Mir when there's no Shuttle hooked up. NASA doesn't really own the training system that trains the crew that goes there. NASA didn't own the control center that really controlled it. I think NASA thought they owned some of those things, but they didn't. It was Russian-owned. So as a result, we never could capitalize on that area, and that's a particular area I don't think we capitalized on. But we will when it's our space station, or predominantly ours, run out of Houston, Texas, with the majority of the training done in Houston, Texas. We will learn, just like NASA learned to operate the Shuttle very good, just like NASA learned to fly Apollo to the moon.

So, will NASA learn? Sure they'll learn. It's a shame, in my view, though, that we couldn't capitalize more from the Mir-Shuttle Program in that area. That's one example in a long-duration space flight that I don't think we capitalized on. It's just one example.

Wright: Speaking of learning when you were aboard the Mir, a lot of it, I'm sure, was on-the-job training, because you were watching these cosmonauts do what they were doing. Did that affect what you were doing?

Blaha: Predominantly on my flight--and I know you're talking with everyone involved in this program, so let me make a comment and then I'll answer that question. Well, let me answer your question and then I'll make my comment so I don't forget the question. In my flight, we had two Russians, Valeri and Sasha and myself. All three of us were busy, from eight o'clock in the morning until ten in the evening, and they were even busy up until midnight. The only reason I wasn't is I quit at ten or ten-thirty if I could, so that I could wind down and get a good night's sleep. But I never just watched them do stuff, because I never had any time to do that. I was either busy with all of the things I was doing, which predominantly was science experiments. If I had a free moment, I was working to improve the handover process, amongst many other things I could go into but I won't. or I was writing notes to Randy Brinkley's team on the Phase Two and telling them some things I thought they ought to know. I maybe spent thirty minutes in my free time writing some e-mails to five people and reading the e-mails I was getting from those five peoples. So I didn't feel like I had any free time. That was seven days a week, that was Thanksgiving Day, that was Christmas Day, it was New Year's Day.

So I never just watched them. The only time I ever watched them was during the comm calls, and my commander, Valeriy Korzun suggested I do something, and I remember at first I didn't like his idea, but in the end I realized it was a good idea. In effect, whenever we would get a phone call, a way of thinking about it, a phone call from the Russian Control Center, and effectively you'd get a phone call every hour and a half, and that phone call could last five minutes, fifteen minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, depending on the com coverage. So it was like an interruption every hour and a half, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes of your time. I viewed it as an interruption at the start when Valeriy asked me to make sure I was on com. But after a while I saw the value, because I listened to all of their discussions with the ground in Russian, which allowed me to do two things. One, keep up on what was going on on the Mir Space Station. In fact, by the end of the mission, this got to be funny, because when I listened to the Americans when they got on the radio telling me in English what I already had heard in Russian five hours earlier, I used to think it was funny. Or maybe their English version wasn't exactly right, but I didn't even care. I would just say, "Fine. Thanks." Anyway, it was interesting. So I never just watched them. I never really had time for that.

Every now and then I would do something with one of them, but not often. I could probably count the times I did something with either Valeriy or Sasha together; maybe there were fifteen, twenty times in that four and a half months. And the reason was, we all were too busy. We couldn't be together. All three of us had to be working on things to get things done.

Now, going back to my overall point, I am sure, and I'm trying to tell people this at all levels, that they hear a different message from different people who flew on long flights. I'm convinced, myself, right now, that the reason for that is each one of [the 7 long Mir flights] really was different. If you took Norm Thagard, for example, and he flew the mission I flew, what I'm saying today Norm would be saying. And what Norm is saying, I would be saying. Or if I flew on Jerry's flight, and Jerry flew on the mission I flew, he would be saying what I'm saying today, and I would be saying what he's saying. In other words, instead of looking at the seven people who flew these missions as different people, therefore, the mission was different, I think the people are actually closer together because we were all trained the same way in Houston, we all have the same basic education, background, everything, and I actually think the people are closer[ - the mission was different].

What was different is their mission was different. Jerry had a fire on his mission. I think it got his attention, and I'll bet you any other person who was on that as an American living in a foreign language would be thinking everything Jerry thinks today. Mike a decompression. Shannon didn't get half her science experiments until the last two months of her six months, because the Priroda was very late getting there. Norm missed almost all of his [science experiments] because his module didn't arrive with all of his life science on it until three weeks before he left. So all of those factors made the missions different.

As it turns out, which I find almost hilarious, the one person who was not a scientist, i.e., me, I'm a pilot, so I'm not a Ph.D. smart guy, I don't know anything, I'm not a doctor, I'm not one of those people, and it's all true, I was the only person who actually [was able to] fly a real science mission. And it's almost incredible, because like I say, Norm's stuff wasn't there until his last three weeks, Shannon's wasn't there until [after] two months, Jerry had the fire, which did change their mission, there's no question about it, regardless of what anyone says, it did, and Mike had the decompression which effectively took the electricity in three bedrooms out of your six-bedroom house and cut them off so they couldn't be use[d]. How much of it got recovered for Dave, I don't know, I don't think too much. And then I started to lose contact [with NASA, since I returned to my home in San Antonio]. So I won't talk about Andy's [Thomas] mission.

So what I'm saying is that each of the missions were actually very different missions. The Russian commander they all flew with were different human beings, and we know ourselves in Houston, the commander has a lot to do with a tone of a mission in orbit. They're all different human beings. Anything that goes on on a short Shuttle flight is magnified on a long flight, and is magnified again if it's in the Russian language. So the difference in commanders that all the seven people flew with was a player, too. I could go on and on. There were lots of factors that made each mission different. As a result, the human being, and we tie names to them now, who flew on those missions [had a uniquely defined mission to fly].

In my view, NASA management viewed it as the people [were different]. Since they didn't really understand that, they didn't view it as the way I've just explained it. So I think, unfortunately, we never capitalized on that long-duration [50% of the mission to Mir] the way we could have. It was just due to misunderstanding, just like I myself had [a misunderstanding ]all the way until I arrived at the Mir Space Station. When I say I arrived, until the Space Shuttle unhooked, and what I call the party ending, because there are Americans who go to the Mir on a Space Shuttle flight that spend five days hooked up moving stuff back and forth. They don't know what prolonged-duration flight--they think they do. They don't. I will tell you this, having done both, having done a party, work, and a party, I describe them that way, they're very different. The environment's not even the same.

And the relationship those Americans even see the Russians in is different. In the relationship they see the two Russians in when they come to Star City for their little ten-day TDY--completely different. It's the relationship I saw the Russians in when I first arrived at Star City, which is one of, "Oh, you're a foreigner. How are you doing?" It's a foreigner-foreigner thing. You're nice and they're nice, and everybody's nice, and we're nice. That's different than becoming a huge part of their training system as a student on the training site, and then the real Shuttle moves away, and you're one American with two Russians in a Russian Control Center. Having seen all of that, I know that it's very different. There are a lot of Americans who don't know that. So I don't know how to say that any differently. It's just true. I know it's true, and they [NASA] will learn one day.

Wright: On a personal basis for you, you were the pilot, and you've had many years of military training, and now you have a Russian commander. In the training that you did, did you have to make a lot of adjustments personally from all your training before?

Blaha: No, that was easy. The easiest thing about it was, I was in my second language. When I went to the Mir Space Station, I knew the Mir Space Station 5 percent the way I knew a Space Shuttle when I first flew on the Space Shuttle. That made it easy. In other words, of course he knew more than me. Of course he knew a lot. I knew it. I didn't have one thought different about that. Both Russian crew members [knew]the Mir the way I knew the Shuttle, but I wasn't on the Shuttle. And they learned the Mir in their native language, and I learned the Shuttle in my native language, but I didn't learn the Mir in my native language. So, no. Because of that, it was easy. No, I knew they knew a hundred times as much as I knew, and it never bothered me. It never even occurred to me. That was never a thought.

Wright: What about your time in Russia in the beginning? Can you share some of the experiences that you had there?

Blaha: Sure. Well, maybe I'll do it with a story, and then I'll go back and explain that some. First of all, and again, I think the experiences were different for different crew members, because the circumstances were always different. The way I would explain my tour there may be pictorially best, is when I returned from the Mir and was sitting in my home, in Houston, I don't know, two, three nights afterwards, one of those days, my wife Brenda said, "John, look at these two beautiful books I've put together on our experience in Russia." I thought, "Man, that's great, Brenda." So I opened them up. I started looking through them and there are picture albums, and there were words written below the pictures, and I looked at them, and I leafed through them, and when I was all done, I'll never forget what I said to her. I said, "Brenda, these are really great books, but that's not what I saw of Russia." I said, "I think they're wonderful, and I knew this. I knew you were seeing it different than me. I saw Russia as a desk in a small little room in my apartment, [where I was studying my lesson material].

Typically--let me give you a typical sort of week or a day. A typical day and then a typical weekend in Russia. I would get up in the morning, sometimes at four-thirty in the morning or five, to study for my classes that day, sometimes six-thirty if I were tired, but not much later than six-thirty. I would, at a minimum, do a little studying. Somewhere around eight or eight-fifteen, Brenda would walk into my little study room, she would walk in and say, "Your breakfast is ready." I'd go around and I'd eat breakfast with her, and talk, and eat my breakfast.

Then I would go off to class. Starting at nine o'clock was the class. So I'd leave at quarter of, to twenty of. I would arrive home in our lunch break after two classes in the morning. There was a class from nine to eleven, a class from eleven to one. A one-hour lunch break. Class from two to four, class from four to six. It was like going to college. It was a blackboard and a piece of chalk. That's the same. But I'd arrive home at lunch. I'd run home real quick, and I'd eat lunch with Brenda. Why did I do that? I could have gone to the cosmonaut dining facility. The reason I didn't is, that was a way of seeing Brenda some more during the day, so that's what I did. So she'd have lunch ready for me, I'd come in, we'd eat lunch together, we'd talk a little bit, I'd go back to class.

Six o'clock I come home, I'd walk in, I'd relax a little bit, not much, I'd start studying until ten-thirty, eleven o'clock at night. Somewhere in there, seven-thirty, eight o'clock, seven, she would say, "John, dinner's ready." And we'd go and we'd sit down, and we'd eat dinner together, and we'd talk. That's the way I went through Russia.

On Saturday morning I would study. At four o'clock on Saturday afternoon--this was something Brenda did that was good--she had arranged something. Now, Brenda did her thing all during the week, and I had no responsibilities. I was like a little kid. I was like a--I don't know, I was like a little kid going to school, and my mother was taking care of me, although I don't want to say that that way, but it's the truth, so I'm just saying it that way. So I had a pretty good deal. I didn't have to do any laundry, I didn't have to [fix meals]I didn't have to do anything. Somebody was taking care of me. Brenda did all the shopping, Brenda did everything. The only thing I did was study and go to classes.

At four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, she'd go "knock-knock" on my little door, and she'd say, "It's time." And what that meant to both of us was, I would go take a shower, and at five o'clock a vehicle was arriving, and we went to Moscow to do whatever Brenda had planned. It could be we went to a restaurant, it would be we went to a ballet, it meant we went to many of the different theaters--they call them concert halls--in Russia. And in Russia, unlike America, you can--and we did this and it was neat--if you show up at about eight different concert halls, different places, I won't even go into the names, it doesn't matter, and show up there, at six-thirty you can walk up just like we walk into a movie theater, a little ticket booth, and get a ticket right before the movie, and walk in and listen to a great concert. Moscow Symphony Orchestra, as an example, or it could be a great viola player from Vienna who's in town, accompanied by some orchestra in Russia, or it could be a great pianist from Austria. That was Vienna, so let me pick another company, from the Czech Republic, or it could be anybody. So every Saturday night, I mean, we did that. We probably went to, I don't know, thirty, forty of those performances.

What's neat in Russia is, you can walk in thirty minutes before the performance, pay your one dollar a person for a ticket, and at seven o'clock the concert starts, and at nine o'clock it's over. So we did that a lot. So that's what we did on Saturday night. The only rule I had on Saturday night was I had to be back by eleven, eleven-thirty so I could get a good night's sleep, because I knew I needed to study on Sunday. So that was essentially the way we spent our time in Russia. That's why I was completely different, because Brenda saw a different Russia.

We made some trips that she arranged, so we would go to St. Petersburg. We went there twice on an overnight train. We did that. Brenda went on lots of those during the week sometimes. So we did that. We had lots of different friends visit us, and they would stay with us. Buzz [Edwin E.] Aldrin [Jr.] stayed with us for four days once. I just use his name because you know him. We had other people as well who stayed with us, and Brenda would show them all around Moscow and take them somewhere sometimes. But all that was just going on. That's why her album book, when I looked at it, I did, it was true, I said, "Brenda, this is very interesting, but this isn't the way I saw Russia."

Wright: How well were you able to communicate with her once you were on board the Mir?

Blaha: Oh, that was very good. No, I thought that was excellent. I had no problem with that. I thought it was very good. I chose not to communicate with her maybe as often as I could have. You had a choice, the way I looked at it, and, of course, I was busy, so I had work to do. The Russians would set up some periods where you could talk through their com system effectively. You could also talk through the ham radio. I did that with Brenda some. I didn't do it as often, because I didn't have time. And I'll use another example. I didn't do it with her sometimes because I didn't want to. I wanted to do something else.

I'll give you an example. In the Mir, if you want to, let's say we're in this room and there's the window. But in the room over there, there's no window. You can go over there and talk to Brenda, John, right now, on the radio, or you can come over into this room and, guess what, watch a miracle roll by. You can see Texas coming, and Florida over there, and, oh, there's Boston out on the horizon, and oh, Chicago and the Great Lakes, and four and a half minutes later it's rolled by. Or I can go in that room and talk to Brenda on the radio.

So what I'm saying as an example, you could talk on the radio more often if you wanted to, but you missed what I've just described, because you couldn't do both. Or maybe the other thing was, whether you liked it or not, you're in an experiment you had to do. You were behind and you had to do it. So I talked with Brenda probably as often as I wanted to in orbit, but I could have more on the radio, but I didn't. I gave you two other alternatives.

Wright: How was the communications support with the ground?

Blaha: I thought it was outstanding.

Wright: And you could [unclear] in Russia as well?

Blaha: I thought it was outstanding. I thought the--well, you say the support team, the only support team that had anything to do with me talking to Brenda was Steve Vanderark in Houston, the psych support group there, and then the flight surgeon who was in Moscow. No one else had anything to do with it. Those were the only people who did the work that got you a comm pass.

Wright: Tell us more about the window views. Was there one in particular that you remember more than the others? Surely they didn't become routine.

Blaha: There were lots of windows in the Mir that you could look out of. Unlike the Space Shuttle, when you open the Space Shuttle cockpit, you almost feel like you're--well, the best analogy would be, you're in an automobile. You look to the left you're looking out windows, you look all around you're looking out windows, you're looking out windows to the front. And that's where you're talking on the radio to Houston and blah, blah, blah. So you get to look out the windows for free on a Space Shuttle. Now, I know that a lot of mission specialists who flew up would say, "You maybe got to, John." [Laughter] And they'd be right, and I'd understand that, because the pilot and the commander did a lot of their work on the flight deck. So if you're doing a lot of your work in the mid-deck or in the Spacelab or something, there'd be a lot of people that I knew for seventeen years that would smile if they heard me say that. So I have to acknowledge that. But for me there was a big difference, anyway. So there were lots of windows.

Now, some windows in the Mir that were very good windows to look out of took time to look out of. They had covers over them, and to use those windows you had to go over to the Centralni [phonetic] Post, the main command and control there, and you had to put some commands into the computer system to, in fact, open a cover on that window. Then go to the window and look out it, and when you're done, come back and give a command to close that cover, because if you ever forgot that, the commander--and I don't blame him--would say, "You idiot. You should have closed that thing or we're going to get--" Because now those windows that had those covers on them, they were beautiful, because they didn't have any pitting on them, because they had this metal cover on that was protecting them. So those were beautiful windows to look out of, but there was a time loss in that you had to do that and go to where the window was.

One of them, by the way, was right in the base block. So to use that one, you made this [unclear] what the commander or the board engineer were doing. So you may have to accept some windows that weren't as good for viewing. There were lots of windows, but there were some requirements that came with the best windows. [Laughter]

Wright: Were there any spectacular views--

Blaha: Sure.

Wright: --that sticks out in your mind?

Blaha: There were lots of views. Oh, no, there were lots of views. Oh, sure. I mean, I could go on and on about views. I mean, I can see thousands of views. I can see coming up on Houston, Texas, at night and see in Houston, Texas, all the cities as little golden dots, San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, all the way down the East Coast of the U.S, over into Florida, all these little golden knots of cities as you roll by in four and a half minutes, or make the same pass from Seattle cutting down towards Houston, Texas. I used to love that one.

I used a map that people at NASA had put together as a world map, myself, a lot, for that planning, because I'd go around with my daily plan on a clipboard here. But I'd look ahead and I'd plan these what I'd call good passes. See, I could put them in as time blocks. So now I'm working on something, and I'd go, "Oh, it's 10:35. In five minutes, if I'm at that back window, I can watch Seattle go by, and San Francisco, and, oh, then I'll get to see Phoenix where I know Brenda is visiting right now." So I get to do that, and it's really 4 a.m. there, but that'll be fine, think about her there. Then I think about my son Steven down in Houston as I go by. I'd use that sort of seven minutes for that. But if I had it on my schedule, I wouldn't miss it. So I used our world map program to project ahead to tell me, to let me build what I called good viewing times. So, yes, so that was all good.

Wright: The prep time that you took to prepare for your trip, and then, of course, your trip itself, you had mentioned earlier that you were even at that time maybe thinking of moving and starting a different life, but yet you chose to do that. Do you have any regrets of spending all that time doing that?

Blaha: No. No, it was good. The only regrets I have are financial. If I'd made the switch earlier, I would have been smarter financially. But that's the only regret. And now that I'm aware of that, I would say it's a regret, every now and then I do say because the stock market has been so good those past three years, that had you started earlier to be a civilian, you would have been better off financially.

But as far as do I have any regrets? No. I thought it was an experience that I'll always remember. I think the seven people who did that experience know that. I don't think other people realize what they did or that the experience was really different from a Shuttle flight, because I didn't think it was either, remember. But I [now] knew that it was, and they don't. So it's something I wouldn't have known had I not done it.

Wright: Each of you had a different mission, but as you mentioned, just seven people have done this. Are there certain characteristics that you feel are necessary to be able to do these missions?

Blaha: I don't know the answer to that. I honestly don't know the answer to that.

Wright: Because everyone of you are so different?

Blaha: Yes. I don't know the answer to that.

Wright: Do you think being a pilot helped you?

Blaha: No, I don't think it made any difference. Mind you, there's part of me and the people who flew Shuttle flights with me, especially when I was a commander, they know, I think, my view of something I'm now going to say, and that is, I always viewed any space crew, so I've viewed a Space Shuttle crew, even when I was a commander, as everybody is the same and everybody needs to pitch in and help, kind of like everybody pitches in and helps on a camping trip. So I used to try very hard to break down what I'm going to call the stereotype of, well, the commander and the pilot, they do the things with the spaceship, and the scientists do the science thing. I used to like the idea that everybody shares, including letting the scientist doing spaceship things. Because I think an astronaut's an astronaut, they're not a scientist and a pilot. I mean, there's a time for them to be a scientist and a pilot, and that's when something gets very intricate.

Let me give an example for the scientist for a minute. On STS-58, we had some dissections with some rats. Monty Fatman [phonetic] knew what he was doing because he's a veterinarian. And Ray Seddon [phonetic] knew what she was doing, because she's a medical doctor, and Shannon Lucid, and Dave Wolf, and [Marty Fettman]-so of course you train those people to do something that it would be a little more difficult to train a pilot to do, because they are used to that.

Then you train a pilot, of course, to land a Space Shuttle. Now, could a mission specialist do it? Sure, they could, but there are times, specific activities that you do train people who are a little closer to their background to do things. But there's a heck of a lot of things that either can do on a space mission.

So I guess that was a philosophy of mine on a Space Shuttle, and that's a philosophy of mine even on a Space Station. So I don't know the right [way] to answer your question, I don't know if there's a certain kind of people that's better for a Space Station one way or the other.

Wright: Is there one area that you feel to prepare for long-duration flight is more important than the other, something in your training that you felt was more valuable than the other?

Blaha: No. No, I can't say that. I know a lot of people have ideas on that, and some people would say psychological, and the Russians would say that. Maybe that's true, maybe that's not true. I'm not smart enough to know. Since I'm not smart enough to know that something is absolutely correct on that, I won't say anything, other than to say that there is one thing that I would have thought would become a requirement on a space station crew, because there's enough human beings in America that you could make sure you always had a crew member on a space station all the time who had been a doctor in their life. We have enough astronauts who are doctors by profession before they became an astronaut, or if we don't have enough, we could certainly hire a few more. We train everybody to be able to react to emergencies and medical things, and that's okay for the Space Shuttle short flight--short flight.

But in my judgment, if I were the big [chief of] NASA, it wouldn't even be a discussion. I would say, "One member of a space station crew will always be a person who, before they became an astronaut, had been a doctor." And maybe it's a Japanese. That's okay. Could be an Indonesian. That's okay. Just as long as one member of that crew had been a real doctor in their life, and now when they receive the training of how to suture somebody up, how to do a tracheotomy and all of that, like I was trained, and I could tell you other things, I just think they would do it better in the real world. They would do it better than someone like me who really wasn't trained and wasn't a real doctor before I became an astronaut.

So the one observation I would make is that I would have one person on a Space Station crew who had been a doctor by training prior to becoming an astronaut on every Space Station crew.

Wright: The folks that will be going to work and live on our Space Station, of course, their lives will be totally different than they are here on Earth, because a new routine begins. What is the most out-of-routine thing that you missed while you were on the Mir?

Blaha: The only thing I missed is not seeing my wife. It's the only thing I missed, and I told people that all the time. I would go to the Mir to work on Monday morning, if you could beam me up on Monday morning, I'd go there, and beam me back on Friday evening. I would go there and it would be like going to any job that anyone goes to in America. I would do it. I would do it as a profession forever. I myself found it, I don't know, a little bit of a loss being away from my wife for that four and a half months that I didn't like. So when you ask me what didn't I like, that's what I didn't like. I've been separated from her once when I was a pilot in Vietnam for almost a year. I was a young man then and she was a young woman, and for some reason that didn't affect either one of us then, but now, thirty years later, when we had this separation it did, and neither one of us liked it. Well, that's not true. If Brenda were here she would look at me like that, because what she would say, what Brenda would say is that she absolutely loved it and she was sorry that I didn't stay a couple more months, because she got to go doing a whole lot of things. You don't have to take care of John anymore. [Laughter]

Wright: She got a vacation.

Blaha: She got a vacation, and she got to go do a whole lot of things I guess she's been wanting to do.

Wright: Did either one of you have a hesitation or a fear about you being on the Mir at that time?

Blaha: No. No, and if she were here she'd tell you the same thing. She'd tell you the same thing. As far as that goes--I just didn't like--I didn't realize until we had had this separation, oh, three, four weeks into the Mir flight is when I went, "Hmm. Wish I could beam down to the planet for the weekend." [Laughter] And I'd think that every Friday night. "I wish I could beam down to the planet for the weekend."

Wright: You've had a life as a military pilot, astronaut, now you're an executive in research with this company [USAA]. Would you classify yourself as a space explorer as well, since you were on the Mir? How do you classify that time in your life?

Blaha: I don't know. I don't know right now. I don't know. I don't know the answer to your question. I was going to say something else, but it's not related to your question.

Wright: Well, you can say that anyway.

Blaha: Okay. Well, it's a different thing. It's okay, isn't it?

Wright: Sure.

Blaha: I've realized, and this is something I didn't really know, but a lot of retired astronauts I know know it and they're involved in it, and I guess I'm learning it. I'm very involved in a community project now here in San Antonio. They made me the chairman of a board to bring a Challenger Learning Center to San Antonio. I started that in August. Lean over there and see our plan that we put together, and our fundraising process we're about ready to kick off. So I'm spending a lot of time right now on that particular community effort down here in San Antonio.

I've just started an involvement for the National Research Council. They're doing an independent assessment of the International Space Station. I'm now a member of that committee. So that's kind of interesting. So I still feel like my hand is in the Space Station and in space.

About once a week I have either a luncheon or a dinner or speech somewhere here in San Antonio, or I visit an elementary school and put my flight suit on and talk to those kids. So I feel like I'm still in the space program. So it isn't that I've left it.

Wright: It sounds like you're making an investment for that if you're talking to the school children, you want them to understand what you feel about it as well.

Blaha: Well, the real message, what I've learned, and I could be wrong, but it's what I do. I use space as a way to open up their mind and their heart. My basic message to children in elementary schools is that each one of them are very important people, each one of them has a talent and a skill. It may be to be the best mother in the world one day, it may be to be the greatest carpenter and build nice homes for people, it may be to be a terrific car mechanic, it may be to be--and I go through a lot of professions. Or I tell them things like, "Maybe one of you one day will learn how to fix my eyes so that my eyes would work perfect without these glasses on."

So I tell them there are millions of things that they can do in their life, and each one of them, they don't need to compete against each other, they may think they do as they're going through school, but each one of them has a unique talent and there's plenty for each one of them to do. So my message to children is not space, but I use space--so I talk a lot of space to them, but then I tell them what I really think's important, and I use space as a way into their heart and into their mind. So that's an interesting thing.

Wright: I think it's a valuable one as well. I was going to ask Paul Rollins if he has a question for you.

Rollins: I think you answered this in your own way, but of the seven people, with all the folks that would have liked to have had that opportunity, what was NASA's criteria for picking the seven?

Rollins: Were you the only pilot that volunteered, or were there other pilots?

Blaha: I don't even know that. I don't know that. I don't think the volunteer list to go fly on the Mir was very long. I think that's the honest truth. I think the volunteer list to fly on the Mir was pretty short. I don't know that that's true; that's my supposition.

Rollins: Some other people we talked to have indicated that the volunteer list for the Mir, or just even to go to Russia and work over there is short.

Blaha: It's pretty short. It's pretty short. Initially, I think some people [said] they wanted to go, they wanted to go. But as people started hearing reports back, I think the volunteerism maybe went down.

Rollins: This glorious adventure didn't seem so good.

Blaha: . . .Anyway, as a result, stories came back to Houston. I also think people who went over there on a short six- or eight-week or two-month tour there and went home, I think it was very hard on them, whether they will say that or not, because that's not what people want to hear. "Hey, I went and did it, and it was great." And I say that because I heard what Russians told me in their homes, what they really told me. So I think it was hard on people who either did a short tour there or were over there by themselves.

As it turned out for me, and this is true whether I was living in Star City, Russia, living there, not on the Mir, living at Star City, Russia, or living at my home here in San Antonio, it wasn't any different. It was no different. At first I thought it was different, but it wasn't any different, and that's sort of an interesting comment I just made. But that's true.

I remember when Brenda and I left there, we actually felt we were leaving a home just like we had any other home we'd ever left. So we were kind of sad we were leaving. We were looking forward to me going back and going to the Mir, but we were kind of sad we were leaving. We left three Russians over there, three Russian families over there who we wish we could see, we really wish we could see. In the end, we felt very comfortable there.

The reason you don't feel as comfortable at the start is pure and simple [the] language [barrier]. In my view, and you didn't ask me this question, but in my view, and I've told every senior person at NASA this, I started telling them this when I was in Star City and I kept telling them this when I returned, the single most largest administrative bureaucratic manager decision that was made inside of NASA in this program for the long-duration crew member was inadequate Russian language training before we were sent. The people at Monterey told me that--because I asked them, I said, "Boy, what's going on here? I don't seem to be picking this language up, and I can see the clock coming when I've got to go to Star City." I told them that about a month into the training.

They told me something I'll never forget. They said, "John, we advised your people in NASA that we'd been in the spy business for fifty years in the Cold War, and we've trained spies in the Cold War, and we knew that it took two years--two years--of concentrated Russian training to go do what you all are being asked to do. And your people at NASA said to us, 'These are astronauts. They're smarter than normal people. They only need five months.'" So the poor people trying very hard to compress Russian language training from a two-year program. Then eventually NASA even moved people to the Johnson Space Center and still compressed it there. And that's another factor. If you went and looked at all seven crew members, different people had different amounts of Russian language training before they went to Russia. That's why each case is just a different case.

But the single largest failure, in my view, of people at NASA who planned this program and executed it, was to not adequately prepare people in the Russian language before they went through the gates of Star City. That failure, the human beings who paid for that in spades were the [7] human beings who had to use the Russian language media to follow the courses being presented in chalk on a board, learn it and give it back on exams in the Russian language. In my view, that bad decision, bad idea, made everything for that crew member three, four, five times as difficult as it needed to be. So that's my number one failing of the whole program.

Wright: Do you have any chance to use your Russian language now?

Blaha: [Responds in Russian]. The last time I used my Russian language, I just told you a year ago, now that I have a minute to think about it, but when I speak Russian, I don't think English.

Now that I have a minute to think about it anyway, it was last March when I went to the--I thought it was a year ago when I went over there to do something when I was still with NASA, but I just remembered it was in March when I went to the Russian Embassy, last spoke Russian for a couple of hours one evening.

But no, I don't have the opportunity to speak it much. However, I noticed--remember there were five or six months of Russian language training from August to January before I went to Star City, and I spent a year and a half there. I noticed by the time I was arriving at the Mir, about two years, that I was hearing the Russian language, thinking the Russian language. I was not translating; I was just living in the Russian language. Then I should have started my training in Star City. I'm sure there were some big administrators somewhere who would say things like, "Well, John, all the missions were successful and the program was successful, so even though it was hard on y'all, it didn't matter." I can understand someone saying that, although I would counter with, "No, it mattered. Your saying that one more time would tell me, it would reinforce that, see, you don't understand. You've been running an entire program that you think you understand, but you don't. And you don't even know that."

Wright: So hopefully we will have a chance, the more that they have to review, we'll keep preparing for Space Station.

Blaha: Yes. I don't know. Every time I hear anyone in those positions talk about the Mir, since I've returned from the Mir, I can't even listen to them because I hear so much inaccurate information that I don't even like to listen to them. That's when they're talking about what I call the long-duration portion of it, not the Shuttle portion. The Shuttle portion we owned in Houston, we trained in Houston, we understood it and we did it. But the long-duration portion, the training was owned by the Russians. They understood it. We were the foreign guests run out of their control center. And that's why we don't completely understand it on the management side.

Wright: That's why we are hoping to get to visit with as many people as we can. We certainly thank you for your time today visiting with us so we can get the true history down as you experienced it.

Blaha: That was the way I saw it. You're right, and you'll see it through different eyes depending on what that person's eyes were. If they spent all their time in Houston looking at it they'll have a certain vision. Or if it's from Washington, D.C, they'll have their version on it.

[End of interview]

Colonel John Blaha provided the following additional information
to be filed with this oral history.

Mir 22 Space Mission
by Astronaut John Blaha

In August 1994 I departed my Houston, Texas home for Russian language training in Monterey, California. In January 1995 my wife and I moved into our apartment in Star City on the outskirts of Moscow. We thoroughly enjoyed our one and a half year training course at the Cosmonaut Training Center.

The Mir 22 mission was highly successful. Cosmonaut Valeriy Korzun, Cosmonaut Sasha Kaleri and I advanced space station operations in these areas:

1. Transfer procedures for a docked space shuttle.

2. Long duration American crew member handover procedures.

3. Communication with amateur radio operators around the world.

In addition, we successfully completed many life science and material science experiments. A few example are as follows: the Binary Collodial Alloy test results increased our knowledge for liquid crystal displays; drugs that dissolve over time in the human body; and treatment of oil spills with micro organisms. The Cartilage in Space experiment (which used a bioreactor) had very significant results. One Hundred-Eleven scientists are using the three dimensional tissue growth results in applications to human tissue transplant and as a cancer research tool. The Greenhouse experiment proved wheat will grow in space for a complete life cycle, and demonstrated photosynthesis was very successful. The Muscle Performance experiment (in conjunction with the Russian exercise protocol) demonstrated that exercise in space minimized muscle volume loss, bone density loss, and muscle strength loss.

Two space walks were performed during the mission. The first space walk removed electrical power connectors from a 12-year old solar power array on the base block, and connected electrical power to more efficient new solar power arrays. The second space walk installed a new docking antenna and repaired the amateur radio antenna.

We had many more accomplishments on the mission. Detailed Russian Space Agency and NASA documentation can provide you additional information. I would like to provide you with a view of the human side of the mission by reprinting three short stories which I e-mailed to my wife during the mission. (Docked Operations with a Space Shuttle, Arrival of a Progress Resupply Vehicle, and Space Walks From the Mir.)

Docked Operations with a Space Shuttle

On September 16 I launched aboard the Atlantis spaceship; destination -- the Russian Mir Space Station. I felt our three main engines roaring. Six seconds later the solid rocket boosters ignited and off we went, up the familiar hill to space. I could feel the vibrations from all the engines as our four million pound vehicle accelerated towards space. Eight and a half minutes after liftoff, the main engines cut off and we were in Orbit. Incredible!

Four days later, I watched the STS-79 crew skillfully dock with the Mir Space Station. They were a very professional crew, paying attention to every detail. When we were 20 miles from the Mir it appeared as a bright glowing star. From five miles out to docking I looked at this absolutely beautiful, shining Mir Space Station. For 18 months I had studied many things at the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City. I really misjudged the beauty that was now in front of me. It looked like a very new Space Station.

After docking we spent five days transferring about 4,000 pounds of supplies and science equipment to the Mir, and about 2,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the Shuttle. Again, I was really amazed at the incredible skill of the Mir and Shuttle crew as it worked 18-hour days to accomplish all the work. Each evening the 79 crew and the Mir crew met for dinner either in the Mir or in Atlantis. These were unforgettable times. I will always remember Bill, Terry, Jay, Tom, Elvis, and Shannon as they all helped me move into my new home.

I will also always remember the incredible sight as the Atlantis undocked and flew around the Mir. The views of Atlantis silhouetted against the darkness of space, the horizon of the Earth, or zooming over the top of Russia and China will never leave my memory. Wow, what an incredible space ship America built. Boy, was I proud to see that.

I have been in space for 31 days now; almost equaling my time from four Shuttle flights. Amazing how the time has flown. Valeriy, Sasha and I have been getting acquainted with each other. I had trained with the Mir 22 and Mir 23 crews at Star City; I was now flying with what used to be the Mir 24 crew. Our personal and working relationships continue to grow as the days go by. I am really grateful to the excellent Russian language teachers I had for the past two years. Lisa Kramer in Houston and Nina Sarskaya in Star City were fantastic - they prepared me well. My Russian language is rapidly expanding. I never thought that would happen.

I told you the outside of the Mir looked like a new Space Station. Two of the modules, Priroda and Spektr, look new from the inside. The base block, KVANT, KVANT 2, and Krystall look well used on the inside. I am very impressed with the Russian engineering that built this beautiful Space Station. This Space Station has been in Orbit for almost 11 years and is still functioning - INCREDIBLE! Valeriy and Sasha spend about 50% of their day maintaining the Mir. They are fascinating people - working tirelessly 16 hours a day. The Russian people can be very proud of them. They are very industrious, have a good mechanical sense, and can repair anything.

I wake to an alarm clock every morning at 8:00 a.m. By 8:30 I am talking to folks all around the world on the Ham radio. This is a great way to meet folks and receive news from planet Earth. I usually am finished with breakfast at 9:30 a.m. I have a lot of exciting experiments that I perform until 12:30 p.m. Then I run on the treadmill and use expanders to maintain my muscle strength. After cleanup, we eat lunch together, talk about what we have been doing in the morning and what we will be doing in the afternoon. We do science experiments for another four hours; then have another hour of riding the bicycle before dinner. After dinner I usually spend one to two hours preparing for the next work day. It now is 10:00 p.m.

I spend the next two hours looking at our beautiful planet, looking at the stars, finding planets, and watching movies . I have 50 fantastic movies, a few Dallas Cowboy games, etc., as selections.

I am really enjoying this mission. The work is very challenging. This Space Station is amazing. The views from the different windows are fantastic. There are four windows in the KVANT 2 module that provide great Earth and space viewing. From two of these windows you can see the Soyuz space ship docked to the Mir. There are two windows in the Krystall module where in addition to Earth and space viewing, one can see the base block and the KVANT module.

Before I launched I had many questions related to boredom, or what I would do to pass the spare time. There is no boredom here. There is always something to do. Assigned work, trash, cleaning, repairing, packing, unpacking, etc.

The food has been good. I have a number of Russian foods that I really like. Their food is prepared a little differently than ours; I enjoy the variety.

We have a packet mail system to correspond with friends and family. It is always nice to receive notes from home. I have really enjoyed sharing my experience with these folks. I look forward to the rest of my mission. I hope we can continue to get good data for the scientists and continue to build our relationship with the Russians.

Arrival of a Progress Resupply Vehicle

In mid-November we started preparing for the arrival of a Progress resupply vehicle. Two days before the launch we started loading up the old Progress docked to the KVANT Module. We put all our dirty clothes, trash, equipment nobody wanted, 600 liters of urine, many containers of solid waste, etc,. into the cargo bay.

We started sleep shifting two days before the launch, because we planned to undock the old Progress at 2 a.m. and dock the new Progress approximately 26 hours later. We, of course, waited until we knew the new Progress launch was successful and the space ship was going to have a good chance of docking with us before the old Progress was undocked.

At midnight, Valeriy, Sasha and I worked with engineers on the ground to ensure we had a good seal with the hatch leading to the old Progress. When everyone was convinced we had a good seal, the Moscow Control Center sent commands to automatically undock the old Progress. Valeriy installed a special control system near the base block control station and was ready to fly the Progress manually, if required. He had a TV monitor which displayed the Mir as seen from the Progress.

About 10 minutes after the Progress undocked, we could visually see it at about 100 meters through a large window in the floor of the base block. It was awesome to watch this big beautiful machine with solar panels -- they looked like airplane wings -- pull away and finally disappear.

Twenty-four hours later we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Progress. I was in the KVANT 2 module looking through one of the small windows. I finally saw the Progress at a distance of 30 kilometers. It was a shining star rising towards us at great speed from beneath the horizon. This was an incredible sight. There we were, approaching the terminator on planet Earth, and this “beaming” shining star was roaring towards us. Then all of a sudden, the light from the Progress extinguished as we passed into the shade of the Earth. Five seconds later, four lights on the Progress were turned on. I watched the remainder of the rendezvous through a tiny window in the aft end of the KVANT module, right at the point where the docking would occur. Again, Valeriy was monitoring the event with his backup control system in the base block of Mir.

The docking felt quite firm - five times stronger than I remembered the shuttle docking with Mir felt over two months ago. The Progress rendezvous approached from behind, passed the Mir radius vector, then performed an approach on the velocity vector. We verified we had a good seal before opening the hatch at about 5:30 a.m. We were supposed to go to sleep at 6 a.m. Of course, we stayed up a few extra minutes as we searched for our crew packages. Once we found our packages, it was like Christmas and your birthday all rolled together when you were five years old. We really had a lot of fun reading mail, laughing, opening presents, eating fresh tomatoes, cheese, etc. It was an experience I will always remember. The Progress brought us a lot of food, fresh water, fuel for the reaction control jets, oxygen, spare parts needed to repair systems, equipment for a space walk, science equipment, towels and clothes.

Space Walks From the Mir

In December the Mir 22 Crew prepared and performed two space walks. Valeriy and Sasha walked in space while I remained inside the Mir. The goal of one space walk was to disconnect electrical cables from an 11-year-old solar panel on the base block; connect these power cables to an extension cable; then connect the other end of the extension cable to a new solar panel on the KVANT 1 module. The 11-year-old base block solar panel had lost a lot of efficiency.

The goal of the second space walk was to place a new antenna on the end of the Krystall module. This antenna would allow rendezvous with a Progress or a Soyuz vehicle without having to maneuver the Mir Space Station into a special rendezvous attitude.

I will forever have images implanted in my brain of Valeriy and Sasha working 18 hour days, preparing for the space walks, asking many questions to specialist on Earth, and probing every possible scenario. I will forever remember the incredible views of these two Cosmonauts floating in space, silhouetted against the black of space, with planet Earth rotating by us below. I will forever remember the sounds of strain in their breathing when the workload was intense. And finally, I will never forget the incredible feeling of accomplishment after the job was complete, and everyone was safely inside the Mir Space Station.

Four days prior to the space walks we started preparing, rehearsing, and verifying all of our procedures and actions. Valeriy and Sasha spent a lot of time in the airlock located in the KVANT 2 Module. I spent time in the base block, Soyuz, KVANT, and KVANT 2 reviewing computer displays, switches, panels, checklists, etc., that I would use during the space walk. I also prepared two video cameras and one 35mm camera that I would use to document the activities of Valeriy and Sasha. I thought about where Valeriy and Sasha would be located at various times throughout the space walk, and planned which windows would be best to obtain good photography. I also spent some time thinking through my actions in case there was a malfunction with any of the life support systems of the Mir, a fire, or an atmosphere leak. When the day of the space walk arrived we were all very confident and prepared.

Valeriy and Sasha entered the airlock, closed the hatch, donned their space suits, depressurized the airlock, and opened the outer hatch. Sasha and Valeriy then used a pole (the Russians call this system Strella) to transport themselves from the end of the KVANT module to the base block. They began the difficult task of locating the correct connectors, disconnecting power lines, and connecting the extension cord. Then they took the other end of the extension cord across to the KVANT module and connected it to the new solar panels that had been installed in May. I was able to film this activity through a small (12-inch diameter) window in the Krystall. I also had installed an extension cord to my communication equipment so that I could talk with them and to the Russian Control Center. Every now and then I would go to the base block and enter commands into the computer or recover information the Control Center needed.

Valeriy and Sasha worked very hard on this space walk which lasted six hours. I was very proud of their hard work and attention to every detail. After they completed the space walk, we celebrated with lots of great food, conversation, and downlinked the video to the Moscow Control Center. All were in a great mood. We later realized that during the space walk the connector to our amateur radio antenna had been inadvertently disconnected. No problem, we just added the reconnection of the antenna cable as a second task in the next space walk.

We prepared for the second space walk just like we had prepared for the first space walk. On this space walk Sasha translated down the pole to the base block. Then Valeriy climbed onto the end of the pole, and Sasha moved the pole (with Valeriy on the end) across the open space to the end of the Krystall Module. I filmed all of this activity from a small 9-inch window inside Sasha's living compartment. Valeriy then mounted the pole to the end of the Krystall module and Sasha climbed across to join Valeriy. Four hours later they completed the difficult task of mounting this new antenna, and connecting the electrical hookups to a panel on the outer surface of the Krystall. This was very difficult because they were working a lot with little screws and bolts. This type of task is very difficult inside a bulky space suit. I could tell by the tone of their voices that they were both very tired as they started to transfer back across the pole to the base block.

Then they connected the amateur radio antenna and I verified that we had good transmission and reception on our radio. Valeriy and Sasha then climbed back on the pole and slowly moved back to the airlock entrance of the KVANT 2 module. They secured the hatch and repressurized the airlock. Then they opened the inner hatch to the Mir and the celebration started. Warm food, good drink, great music, and a lot of incredible conversation.

After four and a half months in space, I landed at the Kennedy Space Center, FL aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on January 22, 1997. For seven weeks I debriefed the mission and was a “guinea pig” for life science research. In March, I debriefed the Mir 22 mission at the Moscow Mission Control Center and at the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. My wife, Brenda, and I will always remember this two and a half year adventure. We have fond memories of Russia and the Russian people.

Return to JSC Oral History Website

Go to NASA home Go to JSC home

Curator: JSC Web Team | Responsible NASA Official: Lynnette Madison | Updated 7/16/2010
Privacy Policy and Important Notices

Information JSC History Portal