Returning space station astronauts hanker for family, smells of Earth

Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2001

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- It's been an expensive five months in orbit for returning space station astronaut Jim Voss. Back home, the air conditioner had to be replaced, the house painted and the termite-control man called.

Crewmate Susan Helms, on the other hand, got off cheap. She closed down her apartment before she flew to the international space station in March and put everything she owned in storage. She is thinking about buying a new car with all the money she saved, but first she has to find a place to live.

''Everything's on my to-do list,'' she said after leaving the space station on Monday. ''Right now, nothing is completed, just money in the bank.''

Voss and Helms are headed home aboard space shuttle Discovery, along with their space station commander, Yuri Usachev. Their arrival, weather permitting, will be early Wednesday afternoon.

If Discovery lands as planned, Voss, Helms and Usachev will have spent 167 days in space. It is NASA's second-longest mission ever.

The shuttle dropped off their replacements, who are settling in for a four-month stay aboard the space station.

Helms said Tuesday that she misses the smell of fresh laundry, the beach and pine trees. ''We have a very sterile environment on the space station,'' she said.

She also can't wait to see her new nephew. Mission Control informed her Tuesday evening that sister Margie had given birth to a healthy boy and asked her to hold off giving out cigars until after landing. ''OK, as long as they're chocolate,'' Helms replied.

Voss misses his home-built airplane and his dog, a Labrador retriever and setter mix.

''Other than seeing my friends and family, I'm really looking forward to relaxing a little bit,'' Voss said. ''Five months of really hard work, I think, warrants a little bit of relaxation.''

His wife, Suzan, was busy keeping the home front going in Houston. ''I thought she was going to buy me a new car while I was gone,'' Voss said, grinning. ''She was a little too busy with the house things.''

Voss, 52, and Helms, 43, face weeks of rehabilitation, beginning right after touchdown, before they can take off on vacation. Muscles and bones weaken in weightlessness, and the immune system becomes depressed.

To ease the pull of gravity and prevent injury, Voss, Helms and Usachev will return to Earth in reclining seats.

Usachev, 43, a Russian engineer who flew two long missions aboard the Russian space station Mir, has advised his U.S. crewmates to ''take it easy, don't be in a big rush,'' according to Voss.

The three exercised in orbit for an hour or more virtually every day, running on the treadmill, pedaling the stationary cycles or pulling a weightlifting-type device.

''I sure hope I'm able to walk off of the space shuttle when we land,'' Voss said. ''Five months is a long time to be away from gravity, but we've been working very hard on board space station to keep ourselves in shape and we're hoping that our program up there will hold us in good stead.''


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