Space station astronauts describe life in orbit
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 12, 2002
The crew of the international space station provided a glimpse of life in orbit today, describing attempts to toss foam balls the length of the outpost, watching "Alien" DVDs while jogging on their treadmill and the pleasure they all felt on welcoming their first visitors aboard.
They also said they were pleased to hear that Barbara Morgan, an astronaut who once served as Christa McAuliffe's backup in the ill-fated "Teacher in Space" program, will finally get a chance to fly aboard a shuttle. Sources say NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe will announce Morgan's flight in a speech later today.
"I think that's really fantastic and we wish her all the best," said station engineer Carl Walz.
Expedition 4 commander Yury Onufrienko and NASA astronauts Daniel Bursch and Walz were launched to the station Dec. 5. Their mission recently was extended nearly a full month and they now plan to return to Earth in early June after six months in space.
The crew of the shuttle Atlantis, which docked with the station Wednesday, are the station crew's first visitors in four months.
"I'm just so happy to see other faces," Bursch told CBS Radio. "Nothing against Yury or Carl, but I think it's great! It's certainly true we have a lot more things floating around. In fact, the this morning something floated through the hatch and it took us awhile to figure out who's it was."
In a letter to family members, friends and the public, Bursch said earlier this week he particularly enjoyed zooming the length of the space station in his spare time.
"What we've been trying - and I haven't been too successful so far - is that we have some foam balls that we try to throw the length of the station and we really haven't been too successful so far. That's kind of what we do for fun. Of course, we play with our food like every good astronaut, Carl's great on the keyboard - he has a keyboard up here that he plays - and we also watch movies."
Asked by another reporter what sort of movies are on board, Bursch said: "We happen to have all the "Alien movies," so I've watched those. And I kind of thought the best one was the first one and it kind of went downhill from there. But the DVDs are a lot of fun, we watch them while we're running."
Later today, the combined station-shuttle crews will enjoy several hours of off-duty time. Shuttle commander Michael Bloomfield plans to serve up barbecue beef with corn. Spacewalker Jerry Ross will add a bit of atmosphere with a selection of country western CDs.
"We've been awful busy the last couple of days and we've sort of been eating at odd times, trying to keep up with the work," Walz said. "But we're looking forward to a little time to relax together before the next couple of EVAs."
Astronauts Steven Smith and Rex Walheim staged the first of four spacewalks Thursday to attach a huge truss to the space station. Veteran Ross and rookie Lee Morin will venture out Saturday to continue the job. A third spacewalk is on tap Sunday and a fourth on Tuesday.
Thursday's successful excursion was the 35th devoted to space station assembly. In years past, NASA managers warned that station construction represented a "wall" of EVA challenges. Smith said today the wall is still there, but NASA has improved training procedures and facilities to properly prepare construction crews for the damands of the job.
"The wall is here," he said. "We have several EVAs we're going to do this year, we set a record last year. As we've proven several times in the last year, we've got the procedures in place and the facilities and the people. I'm not sure if you followed our EVA yesterday, but we got everything done we'd hope to. We got a couple of curve balls thrown at us by the hardware and the procedures were in place to solve those. So it was a 100 percent successful day."
Asked what makes walking in space so enjoyable, Ross said it was "the idea that you're a human being in your own little spacecraft and you're using your own intelligence and your own hands to do things that are so incredible and so important for the future of mankind."
"Add to that the beauty of what you're doing, the incredible sights, a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes and the fact that you're going across the surface of the Earth at such a great clip that if you look away for too long, you'll miss entire continents."
Ross is NASA's most experienced spacewalker, a veteran of seven flights - a first in space history - and a veteran of seven spacewalks totaling 44 hours and 11 minutes. Smith currently is No. 2 on the spacewalk experience list with 43 hours and 21 minutes in six excursions.
"I've been very fortunate to have this opportunity, both to be in space - not to mention being on the international space station - and then the icing on the cake is the opportunity to do two EVAs with no less than the king of EVA himself, Jerry," said Morin. "I'm very grateful for that opportunity."
And finally, in case anyone is wondering, Walz and Bursch have already taken care of their taxes.
"My wife took care of that and we already have an extension," Bursch said. Walz' wife "got one of the tax programs and she filled it out and took care of it all," he said. "She's sort of in charge while I'm gone."