News: Book journey through space stations

Book journey through space stations

Let me take you on a book journey I went on this past summer. To me, a book journey is when you read one book which refers to another book which might hint at an intriguing subject that leads to another book and so on.

Book journey through space stationsThis one started with a book purchased for $1.00 at a yard sale. Out of Orbit, by Chris Jones, is the true story of three astronauts stranded on the International Space Station (ISS) when the space shuttle Columbia exploded on its return trip down to Earth in 2003.

As well as talking about the three astronauts, their background, what their wives go through, and their time on the ISS, it also covered a partial history of space stations: the US Skylab, crewed in 1973 and 1974, and the Russian Mir, operational from 1986 to 2001.

In talking about Mir it mentions a fire that had almost resulted in the abandonment of the station and a collision that caused the closing off of one module to prevent decompression. I vaguely recalled reading something about these events in passing but the greater detail here lead me to want to know more.

In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the author mentions a few of the books he used for background on Mir, Dragonfly by Bryan Burrough and Off the Planet by Jerry M. Linenger. I immediately ordered these two through I wanted to order a third, Red Star in Orbit by James E. Oberg, but couldn't find it in my price range.

Book journey through space stationsDragonfly arrived first. During 1995 to 1997, the US and Russia had an arrangement whereby US astronauts would stay on the ageing Russian space station, Mir, for around 6 months at a time. This book covered the training, personal and political issues, cultural differences and details of each astronaut's stay.

During astronaut Jerry Linenger's stay, a fire engulfed the station with smoke, causing the three on-board to have to wear masks for a week. There was a near collision with another Russian space craft, communication problems with mission control in Russia, and, as the station was old, coolant leaks in pipes snaking throughout the interior resulted in toxic ethylene glycol permeating the air.

From the point of view of this book's sources, Linenger appeared to be a highly focused, highly capable but introverted individual, a loner. The latter two traits are the opposite of what you want for a long duration stay in a cramped, isolated location with two other people whom you need to get along with and work with as a team. It seemed that due to the problems that occurred, Linenger complained greatly, became paranoid about coverups, refused to help find and fix the coolant leaks in favour of working on the science experiments, and shut himself off from mission control.

Book journey through space stationsNow, you may have missed it, but that same Jerry Linenger is also the author of the third book Off the Planet which arrived in the mail a few weeks later. It was a very easy and enjoyable read and in it, Linenger describes what happened during his stay on Mir in a completely different light, one that makes perfect sense given the personality traits of a highly focused and highly capable individual.

Linenger did refuse a lot of communication with mission control but that was due to the near uselessness of the communication system. He didn't work on the coolant leaks as much as the two Russian cosmonauts but instead focused on making the mission a success by completing all the science experiments. And I'll leave the rest for anyone who wants to read the book to find out.

Suffice it to say, it was a very enjoyable and educational three book journey. I could go on about a tyrannical manager at NASA at the time, the attitude difference between the Russian cosmonauts and the US astronauts, the difference between the pioneering Mir and the luxurious International Space Station, and more, but I wouldn't want to spoil the journey for others.

I would like to hear about book journeys you've taken. Write them in the comments below, in the forum or even make a video!

Book journey through space stations

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