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4 November, 2004

A talk with astronaut Mike Fincke onboard the International Space Station, October 22, 2004

A successful link with the International Space Station (ISS) allowed a group of McMurdo Station residents to talk with Lt Col Mike Fincke, the U.S. astronaut onboard. He is the ISS Flight Engineer and this is his first space flight. He launched into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz TMA-4 spacecraft on April 18. They lifted off from the same launch pad used by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in his historic 1961 flight to become the first human in space. He has been sharing the ISS with Russian Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, for the past six months. Mike's wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl while he was orbiting the Earth. He will be returning next week - a Soyuz hard-landing (on land rather than in the sea) in Kazakhstan. We asked questions about his experience in space.

My question was:

I understand that the ISS has been down-staffed to two astronauts since the shuttle disaster and that a lot of your time is devoted to space station maintenance. How much science have you been able to accomplish, and has any of it been related to Antarctica?

Mike Fincke's response:

There are now five astronauts onboard because we are about to change crews. After the crew change, the ISS will continue to operate at a reduced crew level. None of the projects we have been working on are specifically Antarctic related, but that is because of the staffing situation. We have accomplished much more than we expected to be able to do when we launched. This success is due to a lot of extra time the crew spent learning and practicing with Soyuz systems, for example using Russian space suites. The transition to Russian systems was very smooth and allowed us to spend more time focusing on life sciences, including a greenhouse (actually growing plants) and human physiology experiments.

Responding to other questions, he said in an emergency situation, a rescue mission could transport them from the ISS to a mobile clinic on Earth in a minimum (best-case scenario) of 9 hours. He said that we are a lot more isolated here in Antarctica than he is in orbit!

He said that when he was a kid, his favorite planet was Mars...now it is Earth. He said that Earth's atmosphere is very thin when viewed from space and it seems much more precious from up there.

He said the food is actually very good, but he is looking forward to having a real pizza when he returns.

One interesting thing he mentioned - in the weightless environment they can make minor adjustments to their body positions by blowing air through their lips in the appropriate direction. That must be fun to play around with!

Here are some pictures, courtesy of NASA and the European Space Agency.

If you want to learn more about astronaut Mike Finke, go to: <http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/fincke.html>

1: NASA astronaut Mike Finke, International Space Station Flight Engineer

2: Russian Soyuz spacecraft launch

3: Soyuz spacecraft docking with the International Space Station

4: The International Space Station, a science laboratory orbiting Earth

5: Sunrise from the International Space Station

6: A very thin film of air, water, and land can support life on Earth

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