Despite all the problems we had, I was in fear for just one second


Michael Foale spent 145 days on Mir space station in 1997 as part of a joint US-Russian mission which was marred by a series of near-catastrophic accidents. Here, he remembers life on board.

Michael Foale spent 145 days on Mir space station in 1997 as part of a joint US-Russian mission which was marred by a series of near-catastrophic accidents. Here, he remembers life on board.

I spent five months on Mir. Most of all, I missed my wife and son. The thing I focused on during the last few weeks was how my son was learning to speak, because I would sometimes hear him on the radio. He'd try and talk to me, but I didn't understand him.

I was surprised at how well the two different crews with which I was working interacted, in spite of obvious differences between us because I was from America and they were from Russia. Going in there, knowing you have to make this work, it's like when you get married, you have to make it work. There is an enormous commitment, maybe more than in marriages because it's only for six months, that a crew puts into getting on together. So it works surprisingly well. In fact, more pleasurably and more acceptably than I expected.

Despite all the serious problems we had, I was in fear for my life for about one second, [when a supply module seriously damaged Mir] and that was probably the case for the whole crew. But as soon as we realised a second had passed and we were still conscious, it turned into a situation of trying to find out what happened and try and do the next best thing.

One of the big things I learned is that the Russians are so resourceful and resilient. When they think they're at the edge, you suddenly find there's just a little bit further you can go. We found that especially, I think, when we were repairing the computers, because of the way they wouldhave us take boards out of a computer and put them into another to make a whole one.

I got the occasional Mir joke sent up to me and I told it to the crew, and we all chuckled and laughed. Everyone should be able to do that, no matter how serious or dangerous the job that you're doing is. I had to ask myself how long I would be able to cope with staying aboard, in the event that the shuttle couldn't dock after the computers failed. I was aware of my son developing, he was three years old, and I wanted to be back with him.

I had a number of extraordinarily warm, amusing, and funny social gatherings with the others after the accident. We would laugh. We would discuss what effects this collision was having on Earth, and we would puzzle over why it was so interesting to them.

When you have human beings living in an area that's small, you're going to scuff things, kick things, knock things. And things are frayed and worn out and we continually did repairs. Changing cables. Taping off cables. We had air ducts that kept on getting kicked and knocked down. That's something you just do all the time. It's no different from being in your house and picking up after your children.

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