Patrick Meyer

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12 Patrick Meyer

"Living on Mir: An Interview with Dr. Shannon Lucid"

Conducted in March 1998; available at Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA (Web site)

By the turn of the twenty-first century, space exploration was being conducted aboard space stations. A space station has often been described as a hotel in space. Once a station is launched, it remains in orbit and is visited by crews of astronauts who travel from and to Earth aboard a space shuttle. Astronauts stay for long periods of time on a space station, which provides living accommodations and research laboratories where the astronauts conduct scientific studies and experiments. A space station is built, inhabited, and maintained through collaboration of space agencies in several countries. The most ambitious endeavor has been the International Space Station (ISS), which involved the efforts of seventeen nations when in-orbit construction began in 1998. The longest-operating space station, however, was the Mir, which stayed in space for nearly fifteen years, from 1986 until 2001.

The concept of a space station can be traced to the story "The Brick Moon" by the nineteenth-century American writer Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909). Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine (1869–70), "The Brick Moon" describes how a group of former college friends build an artificial Moon made of brick. The first known mention of the term "space station" was made by the German rocket engineer Hermann Oberth (1894–1989) in 1923. He envisioned a wheel-like vehicle that would orbit Earth and provide a launching place for trips to the Moon and Mars. Three decades later the German-born American rocket engineer Wernher von Braun (1912–1977) proposed a more detailed concept of a space station in a series of articles in Collier's magazine. He described a giant vehicle, 250 feet in diameter, which would spin to create its own gravity as it orbited 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) above Earth.

The former Soviet Union launched the world's first space station, Salyut 1, in 1971. Six other Salyuts were sent into orbit before 1982, when the program was ended. The United States put a space station, the Skylab, into orbit in 1973, but it remained in space for only one year and was visited by three crews of astronauts. Soviet cosmonauts regularly traveled to the Salyuts, but they did not stay for long periods of time because the space stations did not have adequate accommodations. Improving upon the Salyut design, the Soviets built the Mir, the first permanent residence in space, which was launched in 1986. Nine years later Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov (1942–) set the record for the longest mission aboard the Mir, having stayed 438 days. The same year American astronaut Shannon Lucid (1943–) set the record for a non-Russian on a mission that lasted 188 days, 4 hours, and 14 seconds.

Lucid underwent extensive preparation for the Mir mission. After three months of intensive study of the Russian language, she began training at Star City, the cosmonaut instruction center outside Moscow, in January 1995. Every morning she woke at five o'clock to begin studying. She spent

most of the day in classrooms listening to lectures on the Mir and Soyuz space shuttle systems—all in Russian. (The Soyuz is the longest-serving spacecraft in the world.) In the evenings Lucid continued to study the language and struggled with workbooks written in technical Russian. In February 1996, after passing the required medical and technical exams, she was certified as a Mir crew member by the Russian spaceflight commission.

Lucid then traveled to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to watch the launch of the Soyuz that carried her crewmates, both named Yuri—Commander Yuri Onufrienko (1961–), a Russian air force officer, and Yuri Usachev (1957–), a Russian civilian—to the Mir space station. She then went back to the United States for three weeks of training with the crew of the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis, which would take her to Mir. On March 22, 1996, Atlantis lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Three days later the shuttle docked with Mir.

Lucid and her fellow crew members stayed busy while living aboard Mir. The day began when the alarm rang at 8:00 a.m. The first activity for the crew was to put on their headphones and talk with mission control. Next they had breakfast, first adding water to their food and then eating it while floating around a table. In the afternoon they had a long lunch—again floating around the table—which usually consisted of Russian potatoes and meat casseroles. Although the crew had many responsibilities, they still had time for conversations about their own lives and experiences. They also kept in constant touch with ground control in Russia and had regular contact with Soyuz crews who delivered food and supplies. In 1998 NASA interviewer Patrick Meyer had a conversation with Lucid about her experience living aboard Mir.

Things to remember while reading "Living on Mir: An Interview with Dr. Shannon Lucid":

  • Lucid mentions doing daily exercise routines. Exercise is essential while in space to counteract the effects of weightlessness. She spent two hours every day running on a treadmill, attaching herself to the machine with a bungee cord. This prevented the significant weight and muscle loss normally encountered by astronauts. When Lucid returned to Earth aboard the Atlantis, after staying so long in space, she was in such good physical shape that she was able to walk off the space shuttle without assistance.
  • Lucid also mentions conducting experiments. The crew performed thirty-five life science and physical science experiments, such as determining how protein crystals grow in space and how quail embryos develop in zero gravity.

"Living on Mir: An Interview with Dr. Shannon Lucid"

Part 1: Practical Life on MIR

[Meyer] Q: I read in one of your previous interviews that on MIR you didn't have a shower and you had disposal clothing, so how did [you] bathe while you were on MIR?

[Lucid] A: Well you didn't like take a bath, you just had a wet rag and you wiped yourself off.

Q: Was there some special way of washing your hair?

A: It was just using the liquid shampoo—the Russians have one very similar to the stuff we use on the Shuttle—you just wet your hair with it and then wipe it out.

Q: Did you have some special way of rinsing after you had to brush your teeth or did you have some special way of brushing your teeth that is different from how we would do it on earth?

A: No, well just like on the Shuttle you just put a little bit of toothpaste on your toothbrush, get it wet, brush your teeth, and just spit into the Kleenex and throw the Kleenex away; and then just take a Kleenex and wipe off your toothbrush.

Q: I know that you had Russian cosmonauts on MIR with you—Yuri and some others that you spoke about in previous interviews. Did they shave or did they trim their beards and hair?

A: They shaved. I feel they shaved daily because they didn't grow a beard, and they always looked shaven, you know. They had the base block so they got cleaned up in the mornings just after they woke up, and I got cleaned up in theSpektr so I actually never saw them shave but I assume they shaved with an electric razor. I know they had an electric razor.

Q: How would you do something like cutting your fingernails?

A: Well actually what I did, I just cut them and cut them close to an air vent, then the loose fingernails would just pull into the filter and then I just picked them up and put them in the trash.

Q: How do you think thehygiene systems on the International Space Station are going to compare to what you had on MIR?

A: From what I have been able toascertain and I haven't really looked into it in great detail, they will be roughly the same.

Q: When you are sleeping, and I know sleeping is a lot different in zero g than sleeping here on Earth, did you wear any special clothing when you were sleeping?

A: No, when I was asleep, I had the same clothes on that I had on during the day and on MIR we each had a sleeping bag, and so I kept mine rolled up during the day to keep it out of the way so at night I unrolled it—I actually tied it to a handrail so that I would end up in the same place the next day that I started out.

Q: So you are saying that while you were in the sleeping bag, it wastethered .

A: Right.

Q: When you were on MIR, did you sleep differently, in other words, did you sleep more deeply or did you have trouble sleeping?

A: No, I never had any trouble sleeping. I slept 8 hours every night that we went to bed. I always turned the lights out at midnight and I always got up with an 8 a.m. alarm—we ran on Moscow time—and so I slept 8 hours every single night.

Q: I was curious—in one of your previous interviews, you had said that you had a couple of dreams about being in space but when you were in space did you have dreams that you would consider different from dreams you would have on earth?

A: Not really. Sometimes, when I was having a dream[—]if I was dreaming in an earth situation of some sort[—]many times I was floating, so I would be in a[n] earth situation and I would be floating like I was in zero g.

Q: I know on some of the Shuttle missions, they had pillows that they strapped to their heads just so they had the comfort of home. Did you do the same thing on MIR?

A: No, I can't [imagine] why any body would want that.

Q: I know food in space is a lot different than it is on the ground. What do you think the differences between the types of food, I know you had Russian food when you were on MIR, would be like on Space Station? Do you think they will have similar food?

A: I think it is the same. I mean at least for the early operations the American food, the Shuttle food and the Russian food that they will be flying up is the food they will be using on MIR. I know that in the future that they will have frozen food, etc., but I think that is a long way in the future.

Q: Over the years, we work with a lot of astronauts here in theOperations Lab, and we know that they said some things about what the effects of zero g has on the body. Some of them have said things like they had a stuffy head, a puffy face, and they had changes in their sense of smell and taste. Did you experience any of these things and did they change over the duration?

A: No, I never had any change in taste or smell. I never have on any flight, and I've never on any of the flights and not on the MIR flight, I never had a stuffy feeling in my head. That varies from person to person but I've just been fortunate I've never had a stuffy head. Everybody gets a puffy face at first because of the fluid as it redistributes. Gradually, over the period of time that you are on a long duration flight, you'll lose that and your face just looks different. If you look at a picture of someone that's been up 5 months and compare it to when they were up there just the 3 weeks they look different—just the way that their face is filled out.

Q: The air environment is artificial on MIR, was there a difference in the air quality or was there a taste and a smell that was different on MIR than on the ground?

A: No, I never noticed any bad smell at all. There was never ever an odor problem on MIR. Air quality was really good. You know, granted once sometimes there were particles that were in the air but the filtering system took them out. So yeah I was just really really pleased with the air quality the entire time I was up there.

Q: I know in general exercise is an important thing but especially so when you are in zero gravity. Was exercise for you just a necessary chore, or was it some sort of outlet, or entertainment?

A: No, it was absolutely not entertainment, [Chuckle] absolutely not an outlet. It was something that I knew I had to do every day and every day the best thing about exercise was when I finished because I was done with it for the day.

Part 2: Results

Q: I would like to transition now from these practical living aspects into the mission's purpose and some of your personal opinion[s] and feelings about it. First of all I would like to ask you where you are today in relation to your MIR mission? That is, when you were on MIR, did you have any personal research that you were involved in and that you are still working on now and do you think it's important that astronauts have their own research?

A: I didn't have any personal research—I mean all the research I was doing was the NASA experiments—but what I think is that it is very very important that the science we do on Station, that a lot of the science that the astronauts are being involved in, that the crew people be involved in, has to be interactive. By that I mean, you have to have science that you can become intellectually engaged in. I was very fortunate. I had a few experiments like that on MIR. You cannothave just black box after black box that all you do is just flip switches on. You have to have experiments where you are really doing something like you do in a laboratory on the Earth.

Q: When you are doing research on MIR, we know that the environment on a long-duration flight is a lot different [than] say a Spacelab would be, what do you think the trade-offs are between doing a detailed planning operation like we've been doing for Spacelab and maybe setting your own schedule based on your desire for the day since you are doing something like over a long duration?

A: Well I think I had two or three, you know, really main, main, main lessons learned that I've been trying to get across, you know, to NASA, to the community and that is one of them. This was shown in Skylab and every single crew member that's come back from MIR has said: Hey, we have to remember that a long space flight is not a short space flight. You cannot run a long space flight like you do a Spacelab mission because—well, there are obviously many reasons but—for a Spacelab mission, they are 14 days/16 days, and every minute is planned, OK. That is what you have to do for that type of mission, but on a Space Station mission you cannot do that. The crew has to be [in] charge of their day, and I don't mean, by that I mean, when a person works in a laboratory here on Earth, you know what you need to get done and you plan to get it done. And actually that's the way that I worked on MIR. Now theground would use a Russian form 24 which is like a timeline, but it is nothing like you think of a timeline when you think of a Spacelab mission, but, I mean it is not detailed like that. But the way I used it I said okay the ground thinks I will be working on experiments A, B, and C and then because I was on board and I knew the conditions and I knew, you know, how to work around with all the constraints the ground didn't know about, I was in charge of my schedule and how I did it. Do you understand what I'm saying?

Q: Yes, I do. [T]hat's very interesting. We, as planners, we really want to consider the differences because there are major differences.

A: Major, major differences and you know you can even stick this info in somewhere, this came out in Skylab. This isn't like something new that we learned at MIR. This is exactly what the Skylab astronauts said when they came back and you can refer the people, there is a book, I think the name of it isHouse in the Sky. Unfortunately it is out of print and I think the author's name was Cooper. It was just a little book that he published that he wrote on the Skylab mission, and it is for the general public. It is discussed at length in thebook about what Skylab taught them. That happened to Skylab, that happened on MIR, and that has to be the way that the Space Station is run. It's a different way of doing business. It's a whole new ball-game that we are in and you know I keep telling people that a Space Station flight is not a Shuttle flight and it sounds, well, like a stupid statement, but it has very profoundrepercussions that people really need to think about.

Q: We'll make sure the planners hear your statement. I was interested also in if you knew of any specific changes that had changed in the Station program based on your visit to MIR.

A: Well I do know the one that we were talking [about], you know theAstronaut Office gets together and they issue recommendations, and the recommendations they have that [have] come out of the Astronaut Office is that Space Station daily schedule should be more or less under control of the crew and not the ground[,] like on a Shuttle mission. It probably didn't state it quite as strongly as I did but the recommendations that have come out and also I think (and this just isn't me but) all the different crew members that have been coming back have been saying: Hey, we've got to change the way we do training. We cannot have change procedures like we do, you know for the Shuttle, which is a very necessary thing to do on Space-lab missions, and I'll just stick this in and you can stick it in, I mean like I was on SLS-2, which was a Spacelab mission, and I was very very fortunate to be able to work with the people atMarshall and they just did an outstanding job. I thought that the way that mission ran was just absolutely outstanding. You know with all the people and the support. But, and so, we've really learned how to do that kind of a mission, but Space Station is very different so we have to now get ready to gear up and do things differently. We cannot work on Space Station like we do on a Spacelab.

Part 3: Looking Forward

Q: Okay, I would like to talk about [a] question from a previous interview in which you discuss pioneering spirit. You [reminisce] about your childhood dream of being a pioneer like in the American West and had worried that you were born at the wrong time but then you concluded that you could grow up and explore space. I was wondering how well your real life experiences have matched those expectations of your childhood?

A: I've always been happy with events and how they came out. They generally matched my expectations.

Q: You know pioneers have explored about everything on the planet and for many reasons: money, resources, and freedoms. But of course much of the space exploration we've done has been just for exploration sake and I know that is changing. Do you think exploration for exploration sake is a good thing?

A: I personally think that is the primary purpose, but even with a purpose, exploration is hard to sell.

Q: You also indicated in your previous interview that you were really interested in a mission to Mars. What do you think the primary goals and values and reasons and expectations for the Mars mission would be?

A: Well, then we get back to your other statement—I just think it would be neat to do it. I mean to go to see what's there.

Q: We go to schools a lot to talk to school children about the space program and today, unlike 15 years ago, we find that less children raise their hands when they are asked if they want to be an astronaut and go into space. Do you think that this pioneering spirit is still alive?

A: Oh I think so, very much.

Q: Do you think that humans will ever find (now this is your personal opinion of course) aninsurmountable obstacle for living and working in space?

A: No, I don't think so.

Q: Given the difficulty and expense of it, do you think it's actually worth it? or do you think it's actually necessary that humans go into space?

A: Yes.

Q: In the distant future, what do you think people will think about, I mean in the far distant future, what do you think people will think about our space program?

A: Well that would be really hard to say. It depends on—I mean you can look at it from [that] perspective right now. What do the children think about just the very recent past? Like when we (in my lifetime when we went to the moon). We don't go any more. You know it's sort of like they don't understand that. I mean why did we quit. It is sort of like we are backtracking.

Q: That is hard to explain to children.

A: Yes.

Q: Do you, given the political and economic climate we live in, do you think we will have future large scale projects like the Space Station?

A: Well there again, all you do is speculate, and I have no idea.

Q: Where do you think the agency should go? What would you like to see?

A: Oh, I would like to see us go to Mars. That's my own personal opinion.

Q: When you are 90, sitting in a comfortable chair and contemplating your life, what will you be most proud of or feel is your most important contribution?

A: When I am 90, or should we say if I am ever 90, what I will take the most pleasure in while rocking on my front porch will be the relationships that I have had in life—with my husband, children, and friends, etc.

What happened next …

Mir remained in orbit for more than fifteen years, until 2001, although it was officially vacated in 1999. During that time astronauts conducted nearly 16,500 experiments, primarily on how humans adapt to long-term space flight. From 1986 until 1999 the space station was almost continually occupied by a total of one hundred cosmonauts and astronauts. Among them were seven NASA astronauts, a Japanese journalist, a British candy maker, and visitors from other countries that did not have their own space programs. When Russia took Mir out of service in 2001, most of the spacecraft burned up over the Pacific Ocean. The remaining remnants of the space station crashed into the Pacific in 2004.

Mir became an international effort, eventually providing a model for the ISS. The ISS was nearly completed by the end of 2002, but the crash of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in February 2003 forced the grounding of all U.S. shuttles (see Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster entry). Other nations could not continue the full-scale project without the involvement of U.S. shuttles. The future of the ISS therefore remained uncertain. In January 2004 President George W. Bush (1946–) made a speech in which he announced a major revitalization of NASA (see George W. Bush entry). One of NASA's goals was completion of the ISS by the end of the decade. In July 2004, NASA astronaut Edward Michael Fincke (1967–) and Russian cosmonaut Gennady I. Padalka (1958–) successfully conducted a spacewalk to make repairs on the ISS. Future missions were being planned in an effort to keep the ISS in orbit. In his speech, President Bush also vowed that the United States would return to the Moon and eventually send humans to Mars.

Did you know …

  • While Lucid was living aboard Mir she sent letters back to Earth. In a letter dated May 19, 1996, she wrote about the arrival of the Soyuz supply shuttle Progress, which delivered tomatoes and onions. Lucid commented that she and her fellow crew members were so happy to have fresh vegetables that for the next few days they ate tomatoes at every meal.
  • Many of the crew's experiments provided useful data for the engineers designing the ISS. The results from investigations in fluid physics, for example, helped the space station's planners build better ventilation and life-support systems. Research on combustion in microgravity (virtual absence of gravity) may also lead to improved procedures for fighting fires on the station.
  • Lucid's Mir record was broken in 1999 by French astronaut Jean-Pierre Haigneré (1948–), who stayed on the space station for nearly 189 complete days. Haigneré was also a member of the last crew to visit Mir. Before returning to Earth, the crew left the space station in a standby mode, with no occupants onboard.

Consider the following …

  • Lucid described how she performed many activities while living in space, such as keeping physically fit, eating meals, and maintaining personal hygiene. If you had a chance to interview Lucid about life on a space station, what questions would you ask her?

  • When Meyer asks Lucid if she thinks space exploration is worth the effort and the expense, she answers "Yes." What do you think? With all the other issues now confronting the United States and the rest of the world, do you feel that missions in space are necessary? Why or why not? Explain your position.
  • Read "The Brick Moon," Edward Everett Hale's futuristic story about a space station, até/articles/brickmoonrising.asp. Then do some research on the Mir and the ISS. Do you see any similarities between Hale's imaginary spacecraft and the actual Mir and ISS? Describe your findings.

For More Information


Atkins, Jeannine. The Story of Women in Space. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Cooper, Henry S. F. A House in Space. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1976.


Danes, Mary K. "Space Woman on Mir." Hopscotch. October/November 2002): p. 2.

Lucid, Shannon. "Six Months on Mir." Scientific American (May 1998): pp. 46–55.

Web Sites

"Astronaut Bio: Shannon Lucid." Johnson Space Center, NASA. (accessed on July 19, 2004).

Meyer, Patrick. "Living on Mir: An Interview with Dr. Shannon Lucid" (March 1998). Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA. (accessed on July 19, 2004).

"Mir." RussianSpaceWeb. (accessed on July 19, 2004).

"Pink Socks and Jello: Shannon Lucid Writes a Letter Home." (accessed on July 19, 2004).

Spektr: Module on Mir, primarily to house experiments.

Hygiene: Personal cleanliness.

Ascertain: Determine.

Tethered: Tied down.

Operations Lab: A NASA division.

Ground: The ground control crew at Kaliningrad, Russia.

House in the Sky: The correct title is A House in Space. The full name of the author is Henry S. F. Cooper.

Repercussions: Consequences.

Astronaut Office: Astronaut training facility at Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida.

Marshall: George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Insurmountable: Impossible to overcome.

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Patrick Meyer

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