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Shuttle-Mir Stories - Linenger's Letters to his Son

February 5, 1997
Like being in a rowboat"

Dear John:

Heading toward the coast of Africa. I'll try to snap a picture of where Mommy used to spend time doing volunteer work. Accra, Ghana. Lake Volta is an easy find from space, so using it I may be able to see the city nearby.

No joy. Clouds and falling light. Plus a brownish, dusty hue over the deserts of Africa.

Sasha is running on the treadmill, medium pace. I didn't see him go there. And it is not Valeri. Nope, it's definitely Sasha, and he's on the treadmill in module Kristall, and not on the treadmill in the "base block" module. I know who it is, and what he's doing not by sight or sound, but by feel. I can feel him. Frequency about one hertz.

The computer and I are going up and down right now. Feels similar to being in a rowboat, near the shore, after a ski boat has gone by. Gentle, but definite swaying. The whole 13 meter 'tube' I'm in is moving. The force Sasha imparts is absorbed by the station, and it sways, resonates. If he slows down or speeds up a bit, I'll feel nothing. A peaceful float. When Shannon Lucid was on-board she had to stop running at a given pace because the station would resonate at a dangerous level.

You'd be in heaven, John! Rock you right to sleep.

In order to avoid disturbances like that from affecting some of our experiments, say, for example, growing delicate protein crystals, (useful in designing more effective medicines); we mount them on an isolation mount. This device basically uses magnetic fields to levitate a platform (the flotor) on which you put the experiment. Keeps things nice and steady.

We also measure the disturbance nearby the experiment using accelerometers. And some folks are working on refining a device which goes to the source: the treadmill, and isolates it from the structure. Ran on it on the way up here aboard Shuttle. It was too big to put on the floor, so we mounted it from floor to ceiling. Then attached a treadmill to it. Then ran on what felt like the wall. Now that felt strange, and looked strange to the other astronauts watching. In space, nothing is quite the same--new surprises every day.

If you are not exactly following the fine details of what I'm talking about, that's okay. Heck, you're only one and almost a half. I've been studying how to run these experiments and others for over a year now. If you are fascinated, that's what's important. These specific problems will be solved by the time you grow up. But if you have a healthy dose of curiosity in you, it will serve you well not matter what the problem may be.

Sorry that I talk so much about work--but it's what I do up here all day and half the night. The sense of accomplishment, the feeling that what I'm doing might make a difference, is what keeps me going. But when I crawl into my sleeping bag at night, I always say a prayer for you and Mommy, always think of you; and fall asleep content and with a little smile on my face.


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