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Shuttle-Mir Stories - Lucid Postflight News Conference

U.S. Mir astronaut Shannon Lucid gave a news conference after her record-breaking stay onboard Mir. Here is an excerpt from that conference, beginning with some of Lucid's opening remarks.

"I think the most important thing for success on a long-duration space flight... it's not the hardware, it's not your science experiments, it's the people you fly with. And if the people are compatible and you get along, then you'll have a great flight.

"Of course, I had the privilege of changing crews there on station Mir and was part of the crew with Valery and Sasha, and they were also absolutely outstanding people to be associated with. And then Bill Readdy and the STS-79 crew came up and they brought me home. It's been an absolutely outstanding experience and I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to be part of four such outstanding crews.

"I also had tremendous support from the ground. This flight would not have been possible without the tremendous ground support we had. It was just outstanding."

Media questions:

Were there any moments after you returned when you just forgot you were back in gravity? Had some strange occurrences as you were readapting to gravity?

Whenever you come back from space there's always a period of readaptation when you feel just a little strange, and you think "Why did I ever leave space? Why did I bother coming back?" I was very surprised at how quickly I readapted. It was so much better than what I'd thought it was going to be. Toward the end of the flight I kept wondering, "Do I really want to go home? What's it going to be like? Is it going to be worth going home?" I was very surprised at how quickly I readapted.

What is your opinion about how to select crews, to find people who can get along together so they can be productive and have a good experience?

I don't know how you would go about selecting the best group to work together. All I can say is from experience, I think that is the Number One important thing on space station, is the group of people that will work together. If you have a group of people who work well together, everything else is secondary to that. I was just very fortunate in that the people I worked with were outstanding.

Was that an accident, or do you see something there that people could look for? If you had to give yourself a grade, how do you think you did?

Well, I don't know, I guess if you look at the results. . . The whole time that Yuri and Yuri and I were onboard space station Mir we got along. We never had any time that we were not getting along. I could not have asked for anything better than that. It was just great. We accomplished everything we set out to accomplish, so I'm satisfied with the flight, and I don't see how it could have been improved, from a personal standpoint.

Part of the purpose of having joint missions is for our cultures to learn to work together. An integral part of the American culture is the right of individuals to practice their religion, such as Buzz Aldrin taking communion on the moon. Did you have the opportunity and if so, in what ways did you exercise your faith while living on Mir?

I had the opportunity to take any reading material that I wanted to when I went up, so of course I took a little Bible that I always carry with me when I travel.

What was the first thing you did when you got back?

The very first thing I did when I got back, excluding being on CCTV for the NASA personnel, I said hello to my family. That was the first thing I did when I got back. That was really nice. Of course, they had their comments to make. They talked about how I'd gotten a lot more gray hair, the typical things your kids would tell you. In crew quarters, I had lasagna that night. The people at crew quarters there at KSC - that is the whole reason I love to go to KSC, because they fix absolutely superb meals. You couldn't afford to live down there because they feed you so well. They had lasagna and salad and fresh fruit, it was really great.

Were you surprised by the level of interest in your return? What do you make of the rekindled interest that came from your stay aboard the Mir, and what do you think will come of that rekindled interest?

You're right. I was very surprised. There I was on Mir, and on a daily basis I talked with the American support group in Russian Control Center. I talked at least once a day with them, and most days it was twice a day. I talked with Bill Gerstenmeier, who was in charge of the science experiments I was doing, and Gaylen Johnson, the flight surgeon who also worked with Bill. So a lot of times it was just the three of us and the world seemed to shrink down to that, so I was surprised.

But I hope that from the interest a lot of positive things come out of it. Number one, I think that people should realize that long-duration space flight is possible, and I think it's a very positive experience. From a personal standpoint, and I know this isn't the way NASA's going politically, I would like people to think that human beings being in space for a long time is no impediment, like for a trip to Mars or something like that.

Were your children curious about how you lived up there, and do they have any plans to live in space?

No, none of them have ever expressed a desire to go into space.

After Norm Thagard returned to Earth, he said he still dreamed of being aboard the Mir. Do you have any unusual lingering feelings now that you're still up on Mir?

No. I feel that right now I'm perfectly adapted, just like I was preflight. Only one time in my life when I was on Earth have I dreamed that I was in space. I don't know why I haven't dreamed I was in zero gravity more often. When I was up on Mir, during the first month or so I had several dreams that I was on Earth, but floating like I was in zero-g; I thought that was interesting.

What was the first thing that made being back on the ground seem real to you?

I guess the first thing that made me feel like I was coming home was when we did the deorbit burn and you sort of sense the first onset of g's. You feel very heavy. You think, 'Yes, I'm really returning, really coming back.'

How did you readapt psychologically and physiologically to being back on Earth?

Long-duration crew members from the return on the shuttle are in a recumbent seat. In other words, you're in a seat where you're laying down and your legs are actually in a locker. The first thing I did when I landed was to get in an upright position and try to get my helmet off. It was jammed, so it took a little bit to get it off. As soon as we got it off I stood up. The readaptation process started pretty much like it had after other flights I made. Within 24 hours, I was feeling pretty much back to normal.

The one thing that surprised me most, because before I came back I had been telling Gaylen Johnson, the flight surgeon, to bring plenty of Motrin, etc. because I knew my muscles were really going to hurt. But they never did, and I guess that was the biggest surprise I had coming back.

What have been the most personally satisfying experiences you've had since coming back, and did you get to keep any of the free food that was offered to you when you returned?

I'll answer the second question first: as long as it's under 20 dollars I could keep it, since I'm a government employee. The most satisfying thing was that my family was still there and they were just like when I left them, so we just picked up where we'd left off. That was very satisfying.

How much did having ham radio onboard Mir help you out in addition to having email and telecons?

You can't just pick up the radio and talk to Houston. You have to wait until the Mir is over Houston, so you had to be aware of the orbit and your location, and the right time. But it was real nice. My daughter and son-in-law had gotten a ham radio license just before I launched, so they went out to the ham shack located here at JSC because there's a good antenna there, and they would talk to me as long as the passes weren't real early in the morning or late at night. They would take their lunches out there and talk to me, and that was really nice. And a lot of the people I work with came out and talked to me. It was really nice to talk to people I work with and that I knew.

How much of the STS-79 launch were you able to see? Were you able to hear the air-to-ground?

I saw STS-79 after it had launched; it was like a big white star. While I was watching it at one window, Sasha came and said "Quick, quick, come..." He wanted me to listen to the ham radio, which was in a different module. So I flew in there and listened. Someone had made a phone patch, so we were actually picking up the PAO commentary on the launch. So we heard about the APU, and that was really interesting.

If you had your preference, what would your next assignment be? Do you have any management aspirations?

My boss asked me what I wanted to do next, I told him I wanted to be assigned to the crew that's going to Mars. He said that probably wasn't an option right now. No, I don't have any management aspirations; we'll just wait and see what comes up.

You're now a celebrity. What have you done to cope with becoming a household name?

I guess I'm living just like I've always lived. I come to work during the day and we're doing a lot of debriefs. Obviously I'd like the experience that I've had, I want to feed it into the people here at NASA who are working on space station so everybody can benefit from the experience. That's what I've been doing. Then I go home and cook supper and try to put the house back in shape.

Have you spoken with Yuri and Yuri since you got back, and do you have any plans to see them again?

I certainly hope I get to see them again. I didn't speak to them, but they sent a fax from the NASA office there in Star City to the crew quarters at KSC, so it was waiting there when the STS-79 crew landed. That was really nice of them, so I sent a fax back to them, letting them know I'd gotten home and everything was okay.

Could you give us some examples of what it's like to readapt after a long period of weightlessness?

It's nothing you do, your body just does it automatically. When you first come back - and this is true whether it's a short flight or a long-duration flight - your neurovestibular system is set to a different level than it is here. For me, if I go to bend over, I bend over way too far right at first. It's just like my body just doesn't know... You think, 'I'm going to bend over to pick up something off the floor,' but you don't think about what kind of input you have to make to do that, and when I come back my body puts the wrong inputs into it so without thinking about it I would go over way too far. That's just one example of how I react.

You are a symbol of hope for a lot of young people. I know it's important to you that young people, and in particular young women be interested in math and science. Please address that issue of encouraging young people. What advice would you give to them?

I would give the same advice I always gave to my kids. I think it's very important that they take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way. We all know that everybody has different opportunities that come their way; some have more and some have fewer, but everybody has some opportunities. You need to make the very most of every opportunity that comes your way. Also, I think it's very important for a child to do what they're interested in, not just what someone else thinks they should be interested in. I always encourage my children to try different things, find out what they're good at, find out what they're interested in. Then pursue those areas. I think that if a child is interested in math and science then without a doubt they ought to pursue those areas and take advantage of all the many different opportunities there are in their community to further their interest in those particular areas.

Women's' roles in the space program have changed dramatically through the years. To what do you attribute this?

Way back when I came to work at NASA we were given the opportunity to come and work. Over the years NASA has been very good at treating men and women who work here on an equal basis. I've always felt that I've been treated as a person who is here working and no one said "We have to give this to a woman" or "We can't do that because she's a woman." I appreciate all that NASA has done to treat the men and women here as equals.

If you had to do it over again, would you?

I sure would. I'm very thankful that I had the opportunity.

What are the findings of the human life science medical tests that were done after you returned?

I have lost some calcium in the bones but it was just what was predicted preflight; it was no more than the average. Actually, my bones are in really good shape. I started out at a very high level so I'm still at a very high level. A lot of the scientific investigation results haven't come back yet. I just happen to know about the calcium loss in the bones because that's a quick one to get the results back on. But everything else, the standard blood test they do, everything came back within the normal range. I am every day doing exercises to regain the strength in my legs and arms.

Are you back to pre-launch status?

I don't know, because they measured the muscle loss when I got back but I don't have the results from that test so I don't know what the delta is from pre-launch to when I got back. Just on a daily basis, on what I can do, I feel like I'm pretty much normal. The other night I went to open the front door and I couldn't yank it open, and I thought 'Wow, I really am weak!' Then my daughter went to open it and she couldn't, and my husband tried but he couldn't open it, so it was just that the house had settled, not that I had gotten that much weaker.

What occupied your mind when you were in space? Did you ever suffer from claustrophobia?

No, I never felt claustrophobic. When I was on the station Mir I thought about the work I was doing. It's just like when you're at work, you interface with the people you work with and you have your daily conversations and your daily jokes that you make. That's what we did on a daily basis on space station Mir - we'd talk and joke around. Many times I would look out the window and think about how fortunate I was that I was there.

You've been called a role model for women over 50. How do you feel about that title?

I'm over 50, so it sounds great to me!

Do you have any plans to teach, now that you have all this experience?

I haven't really thought about it. Right now I plan to just continue working for NASA.

Was there any specific time during the flight that you found most difficult?

I think maybe the most difficult time I had while I was on Mir was saying good-bye to Yuri and Yuri. They left before I did. We had been a crew together for a long time, but they had to go home before I could think about going home. Of course I felt bad that they were leaving but then I thought that was one step that needs to be completed before I can go home, so I thought about the fact that I would be going home soon.

People here assume there's something difficult about being confined in a small space for six months. You make it sound as if there's nothing at all to it. Is it really that easy?

I guess I just thought on a day-to-day basis about what I needed to get done. There were a few times when it really hit me that I was really isolated. I know there were times when I wanted a different type of book to read, and it suddenly hit me that I couldn't just run out to the store and pick up something different. I really was isolated there, and once in awhile that would hit me and I would think about the fact that I can't just run out and buy some fresh fruit. I'd have to wait until the next resupply vessel. So I think that did hit me once in awhile when I'd think about it.

Do you have any specific recommendations for the designers of the International Space Station that you would want them to take into account, based on all the time you spent aboard Mir?

One of the specific recommendations I have is that you always have to have a way of bringing stuff back. If you bring something up and you're not going to use it anymore you have to have a way to bring it home. On Mir, they have had many expeditions over the years and they've brought various pieces of scientific equipment up. There's not a real good way of getting it back, so they've got all this equipment that's stacking up there. They've run out of places to put it. One of my top recommendations is to think about what you're going to do with something after you get it up there. When it's not in use you have to bring it back.

What did you and the Yuris do together during your downtime? Chess?

Yuri played chess sometimes by himself. The other Yuri and I were certainly not at his level, but he played it on a computer by himself. A lot of times on the weekend or in the evening Yuri and Yuri and I would watch a movie together.

Do you have any desire to return to a space station environment in the future?

I would like to return to space station and work. One of the reasons I enjoyed working on the space station was because I basically had a laboratory of my own during the time I was there. Because comm was fairly limited I was my own boss for awhile, and I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed working in a laboratory and making decisions. I would like to work on the space station in a similar capacity at some future time.

What do you perceive to be the medical professional's role in future long-duration space flight?

I think the medical professional, the flight surgeon, has a very important role because they advise the crewmember on what is good to do, and they keep tabs on the health of the crewmember. I know Dr. Johnson was an invaluable help to me because he kept telling me I was exercising correctly and that what I was doing was the right thing to do, so I think the flight surgeon has a very important role to play.

What was it like for you when Priroda arrived?

It was sort of like Christmas. We got a whole new module full of new equipment. It was a lot of fun as we were able to unpack Priroda and get all the equipment ready for use. I realize that a lot of people at Lewis Research Center worked really hard on getting a lot of the equipment onboard Priroda and it all worked really well. It gave me a real good feeling every time I powered up a new piece of equipment and it checked out. I was proud of all the people who had spent so much time checking it out on the ground and designing it so it all worked so well.

Did you have any advice for the astronaut who replaced you?

I told John [Blaha] that he was in for a good time. Don't get me wrong, I was very anxious to come home, but when you've had a good time, when you've worked someplace and you've enjoyed it, you have a certain amount of regret at leaving it. By the time I spent six months on Mir I really felt like I knew where everything was, and I knew how to live and handle everything that was up there. Now that I'm back here, that's not really very useful knowledge. When you leave a place where you feel very comfortable you regret it just a little bit. I told John he was going to have a great time and to take each day as it comes and not to get too hung up on a lot of details.

Is there any one experience that stand out for you, more than any other?

One night after supper Yuri and Yuri and I were sitting around and talking about what it was like when we were kids, about Russia and America and how we used to have such large differences of opinion. They were talking about how when they were growing up - one grew up in the Ukraine and one grew up in Russia - about how they feared America. I shared with them how it was when I was growing up in Oklahoma, how Russia was the big enemy we feared so much. It dawned on all three of us at once how remarkable it was that here we were, three people who grew up in totally different part of the world, mortally afraid of each other. Here we were sitting in an outpost in space together, working together and getting along just great. That was a remarkable revelation to the three of us. We never could have planned that.

In six months' time there must have been times when you got on each others' nerves. How did you work out the differences that arose from being differentgenders, from different cultures?

You would think that in six months people of different genders from different cultures there would be some times when there would be differences of opinion, but that really didn't happen. Close to the end of the flight I kept thinking, 'Things have been going really well. We've only got a month to go. What is going to go wrong?' and then 'We've only got two weeks to go. Are we really going to hang together?' And it did. I think part of the reason it did and there were no big differences is that Yuri and Yuri really wanted everything to work real well. They wanted to make sure that the American program was going to work well. They just wanted to make sure I was happy, and every once in a while they would ask 'Is everything going okay? Do you have any complaints?' I always assured them that everything was going great and it couldn't be working out any better. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Did you ever get lonely?

No, I didn't really get lonely because every day, twice a day, I was either talking with Bill [Gerstenmaier] or Gaylen [Johnson] on the ground, the Americans in the Russian Control Center; they were helping with the American experiments and what I was doing. Yuri and Yuri were up there and we were always talking together, and there was always something I was doing, something was always going on. The other big factor for me was that I was able to get messages from my family. My husband wrote me a message every single day, which I thought was remarkable because he's not a writer. But I didn't get them every day because they had to send them up by hand on the packet system on the ham radio. So sometimes it took several days before I could get messages.

But I think that was one of the factors why I didn't feel lonely, because I felt connected with my family, getting messages from them. I was finding out which car didn't work, if the dishwasher didn't work. I also found out from my kids that their dad had put bleach in with the wash so all their clothes were ruined. Learning those kinds of things on a day-to-day basis keeps you connected with your family, keeps you connected with life down here on Earth.

How is going to work in space different from going to work here?

Actually I think going to work on a daily basis on Mir is very similar to going to work on a daily basis on an outstation in Antarctica. The big difference with going to work here on a daily basis is the isolation, because you really are isolated. You don't have a lot of support from the ground. You really are on your own. I think that would be similar to working on any type of isolated, remote location.

In a very practical manner, I would get up in the morning and wash my face and I was ready to go for the day. It didn't take a lot of getting ready, like when I'm here. I have to think about what I'm going to wear and all the stuff you have to do in the morning. Then I have to get in the car and drive to work. There I got up - I slept in Spektr - and I was at work. To go into another module took less than half a second, so there was no big commute. That was nice.

When I finished work in the evening I didn't have to worry about laundry, I didn't have to worry about going to the store to get groceries... A friend called me up last night and said, 'I was just thinking about your six months up there in Mir. You didn't have to pay a single bill, did you?' She was working on her bills. And I said, 'No, that's right.' So there were a lot of pluses from that standpoint.

When you returned, how long did it take you to catch up with the news of the day?

My family had kept all of the news magazines I subscribe to, so they were all stacked up and I spent awhile every evening after I went home going through all of my news magazines. I finally got through all of my magazines, so I cleared them out. I did get at least weekly summaries of the news. I have a friend here at JSC who sent me email of a summary of the news that had been going on, so there were no big news stories I hadn't heard about.

Based on your experience, how long is 'long enough' for a person to be in space? Is there a limit?

I don't know what the limit is. All is know is that six months seems like a good time. I think it would depend on what you are doing. If you are just on space station doing science experiments, maybe six months, but if you were headed somewhere like Mars or something then you would have a slightly different focus because you were headed out toward somewhere different. I think that would give you a different slant when you were thinking about it.

Were there any specific physical effects you felt after you came back? Did you feel ill, did you feel weak, did you feel better than you'd ever felt?

No, I certainly did not feel better than I'd ever felt before when I came back. When I came back I felt like you normally do when you come back from a space flight. Your neurovestibular system is out of focus. I think it took a little longer from a long space flight than from a short space flight for me. I'm talking very individually because this is a very individual thing. But I think that within 24 hours I was feeling pretty normal.

Your calcium levels were still within the normal range?

Yes, because they were higher than normal when I launched.

What movies did you watch up there with the two Yuris?

We watched Russian movies - a lot of them were American movies they had dubbed into Russian. There were a lot of adventure and action movies that we watched. We watched 'Apollo 13' in Russian.

As you decide what you want to do next, what are your parameters? What would you not want to do? Would a short shuttle mission seem like a letdown?

I'd be happy to fly wherever I would be put. But if I had my choice I would rather fly a long duration flight than a short one if I had that choice. You put a lot of time into training for a shuttle mission and it's nice when you put a lot of time in training and you get to spend a longer time up in space, so I would prefer a longer mission over a short one. What I would not like to do is to sit at a desk every day. That would be hard.

One of the experiments you talked a lot about was the greenhouse experiment. Did you develop an affection for the plants, and do you think having plants onboard, especially long duration flights, makes good psychological sense?

It was really neat having plants and watching them grow. It was sort of funny because Yuri Onufrienko and I worked on them together. That was not planned, but because of the way the flight was extended we started it up so it would be ready for the next increment. I gathered all the stuff together and then Yuri put the equipment together because the instructions onboard were in Russian. He planted the seeds and he took a real interest in it and then we were both observing it and harvesting the plants at the various intervals. Then when they went home he was very specific in his instructions. He wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to do anything to harm the wheat, make sure that the water was going to be right, that I still took the photography and watched it. When it was time for me to come home, the night before STS-79 got there, I took Sasha in there and explained to him just exactly what he needed to do to make sure that wheat continued to grow. It was real neat.

Just a few days before STS-79 got there I went and looked at the wheat. I raised the window up and looked in there, and I could see the little baby seeds that were growing, so I rushed into the base block. Valery and Sasha were there, and I said, 'Hey, you guys gotta come look quick, because the little baby seeds are coming!' So they came in there and looked, and they were real excited, it was just a real neat thing. I think I'm right in saying this: I think that's the first time we've been able to plant seeds and go from seed to seed, and now I've heard that they have a whole crop up there, a real harvest of wheat that's coming to head up there. I think they should continue to have lots of plant experiments.

Since you've come back, what has your average day been like since you came back? Have you had your fill of junk food yet?

Yes, I have my fill of junk food now, but I will admit that for the first week or week and a half I really ate a lot of junk food. We went out to eat a lot for the first couple of days, but then I started cooking and my kids have come over to supper every night. They'll call up and say, 'Are you cooking tonight?' If I say yes, then they come over. I'm about ready now to stop cooking; I've gotten my fill of my own cooking, but it was really good for awhile.

Since I've been back I've been getting up in the morning and coming in to work. They've been doing some baseline data collection for some of the experiments that they were doing, so I've been doing that. Then I've been talking to various groups about life on Mir, and hopefully a lot of experiences I had will be fed into the International Space Station as they design it. Then I go home, cook supper, do the laundry, talk to the family, ride my bicycle. I've been having a good time.

What has been the hardest adjustment for you since you've returned to Earth? Has the last month been boring for you, compared to the time you spent training and living on the Mir?

No, I'm not bored. I'm really enjoying being back in Houston. Before I was launched I was in Russia - actually, I've been gone from JSC for about two years. First of all we got language training, and then I lived in Russia training for the flight, and then I was on the flight. So it's been a little over two years since I've come in to work here at JSC on a daily basis. So it's been interesting to come back, to renew acquaintances with people I know here. It's been really nice.

I don't know if you could say it's been a hard adjustment, but I really miss having a laboratory to work in, because I enjoyed doing that. It was a really nice thing to do.

Is it unusual for you to go six months without having a disagreement with someone? Was there something specific you did this mission to be easy-going?

I disagree with my husband a lot, and I disagree with my kids a lot. Maybe I disagree with them a little less now.

NASA is not the kind of agency that would place something as important as mission success with crew compatibility up to chance. Is there anything you have learned about how people get along that can be applied for future crew selection?

I just think it's very important that the people who are working together for the good of the mission, and that the individuals don't have their own agenda that they're working.

Recalling your favorite tool on previous missions, is gray tape still your favorite tool? Did you run out of it?

That was one thing that surprised me, I've changed my favorite tool. My favorite tool now is since I've been on Mir is the screwdriver. I always had a screwdriver because I must have used it about a million times every hour. That did surprise me because I did bring a fair amount of gray tape with me over to Mir. I didn't use as much gray tape on Mir as on the shuttle. I think that's because they have bungees on all the panels and it was very easy to just stick stuff underneath the bungee cords they had on all the panels located throughout Mir, so I didn't need as much gray tape as I did before. Also, NASA flew for me a lot of black Velcro ties that they are now using to tie cords together. I used lots and lots of those aboard Mir, so I didn't need the gray tape. NASA came up with this so we wouldn't need as much gray tape.

What about the carrots and nuts that you saved for John Blaha?

There for awhile STS-79 was going to come while Yuri and Yuri were still onboard. Of course, they wanted me to tell them all about John because they were going to be there with John for awhile. So I told them all the John Blaha stories that I knew, and they were ready for John. One thing that we did, we didn't like a lot of the carrots and nuts that were in the American food, so we put them all in one container and labeled them 'For John,' and I told Yuri and Yuri that when John showed up they should take out that container and say, 'John, here's the American food. This is just for you.' It was a joke. But later on, Yuri decided he really liked the carrots so he was making good headway into the carrots, so it was just the nuts left.

Would you ever consider working outside NASA?

I don't know about the future at all. Right now I'm working here for NASA, and I hope NASA will like for me to work for them for awhile, because I think this is a wonderful place to work. I haven't given any thought to working anywhere else.

Related Links:
Lucid Increment
Profile: Shannon Lucid
Shannon Lucid Oral History (PDF)

Tours | Timeline | Shuttle-Mir Background | Shuttle Flights & Mir Increments | Mir Expeditions

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