February 22, 1998 in Nation/World

Weighty Issues For Astronaut Wolf Slowly Getting Used To Life After Mir

Mark Carreau Houston Chronicle

Nearly three weeks after returning to Earth from his lengthy visit to Russia’s Mir space station, astronaut David Wolf said Thursday he was slowly adjusting to gravity.

The sixth American to visit the orbital outpost, Wolf completed a successful 128-day space voyage on Jan. 31.

“It’s hard. It’s serious business coming back from that long of a spaceflight, then re-acclimating,” Wolf, 41, told a news conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Upon his return, the astronaut said he was surprised by the degree of nausea and physical weakness he experienced as his body left the comfort of the weightlessness aboard Mir.

“During the first three days there were very serious balance problems,” Wolf said. “Then it got into muscle fatigue. Essentially just carrying my own weight or just rolling over in bed was enough to strain muscles. My whole body was sore from head to toe.”

His recovery is similar to what his predecessors aboard Mir have faced, and is likely not much different than what his colleagues who visit the future U.S.-led international space station will experience.

“I’m feeling much better now,” Wolf said. “I’m not back yet, and I think it will take a fairly long process.”

The lean, 5-foot-11-inch astronaut is walking, swimming and lifting weights 2-1/2 hours a day to rebuild his strength and endurance.

Wolf said the challenges of his long spaceflight, the year of training to live and work aboard Mir and the difficulty of learning the Russian language have not deterred his interest in returning to orbit.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to begin space station construction this year, and the first crews of Russians and Americans should begin arriving in 1999.

“I’m a career man,” Wolf said. “I plan to stay in the astronaut corps and fly as long as NASA will let me. Multiple long-duration flights would be fine, as well as any other mission.”

Meanwhile, Wolf’s primary Russian crewmates aboard Mir, cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Pavel Vinogradov, returned safely to Earth early Thursday.

Accompanying them was French researcher Leopold Eyharts, who spent three weeks on Mir. The Frenchman arrived Jan. 31 with cosmonauts Nikolai Budarin and Talgat Musabayev.

Budarin and Musabayev remain on Mir with astronaut Andy Thomas, the seventh and final American assigned to the aging Russian outpost.

Thomas is scheduled to return to Earth aboard the shuttle Discovery in early June.

Next month, Budarin and Musabayev plan a series of spacewalks, first to brace an electricity-producing solar panel that was damaged last June when the outpost was struck by an out-of-control cargo capsule.

The cosmonauts also plan to replace a thruster device stationed on a long boom that juts from one of the station’s oldest modules.

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