Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Annapolis Grad In Space - Report From The International Space Station

NASA recent series of complications with the Space Shuttle Program has caused me to think about the human side of space exploration. So, a recent article in USNA-At-Large grabbed my attention. The article first appeared in the Virginia Pilot last week. I think itis worth sharing with you.


* * * *

Author delivers signed work to a Space Station fan


The Virginian-Pilot

August 12 2005

MELFA, Va. -- What do you do when the glamorous guests have gone home, you've put up the groceries and hauled out the trash? Well, if you're International Space Station astronaut John L. Phillips, you kick back and dive into a truly rare treat, an autographed book from a favorite author delivered by space shuttle to your orbiting home. The book, "Down to a Sunless Sea," was a morale booster slipped into a package sent by his wife, Laura, via the Shuttle Discovery.

On Thursday, Phillips got another thrill, a video conversation from space with the author, David Poyer. The private session took place at the Eastern Shore Community College using an Internet link and a new video conferencing unit. Poyer and Phillips chatted for about 20 minutes about a wide range of things, the novelist said later. "It started out with, 'Where on earth is the Eastern Shore?"' Poyer said. Since Phillips had once been stationed in Norfolk as a Navy pilot, Poyer said, he was quickly oriented. Then it moved onto the Naval Academy, where the two Annapolis graduates discovered they shared some common friends in the early 1970s. Poyer said the call was mainly an effort to "buck up" Phillips for his final two months in space, now that the shuttle Discovery and its crew had gone home.

Discovery spent 8 days docked at the station delivering tons of supplies and taking back refuse. The seven shuttle astronauts left Aug. 6 and returned to Earth safely on Tuesday . When Phillips was training for his six-month stay on the International Space Station, NASA asked him what celebrities he'd like to contact from space, Laura Phillips said in an e-mail from her Houston home. Her husband listed Poyer, an author of some 26 books who moved a few years ago from Norfolk to the Eastern Shore. Laura Phillips found Poyer's address on the Internet and cooked up her surprise. She knew that she was allowed to send a few care package items on the planned shuttle resupply flight.

She asked Poyer for a book and note to be packed with DVDs, letters, photos, a Hawaiian shirt and snacks. Poyer was thrilled to help and to discover he had a fan on the space station. "He said he had read all of my books and had a complete collection at home," Poyer said after the seamless link between the college and low Earth orbit. There was a 2-second delay as the voice and pictures made their long journey. But the two strangers soon worked around the awkwardness, Poyer said. Poyer had a copy of his newest book with him, "That Anvil of our Souls," the third in a series of Civil War Naval history novels, and offered to e-mail the text so it could be sent up to Phillips. Phillips, the station's flight engineer, said he wouldn't have time to read both books. "He said he only has two months left and a lot of experiments to do, so he'll have to read it when he gets back," Poyer said.

Because of supply uncertainties caused by the Shuttle program problems, there are only two people on the station doing the maintenance work normally done by three. In addition, Phillips must exercise several hours a day to minimize bone loss caused by weightlessness, his wife said. The rest of the time is involved in science projects. Phillips is enjoying "Down To A Sunless Sea," which was originally published in 1996, and is the latest in a diving adventure series featuring Tiller Galloway, a former Navy SEAL. The mystery focuses on underwater cave diving and has been praised for the way it accurately conveys the claustrophobia and danger of venturing into dark, tight spaces, with a limited supply of air and no one to help if you get into trouble. You'd think that would hardly be an escape for someone living with one other soul on a tiny space station dependent on their ingenuity and imported oxygen. "It's probably light reading for him," Poyer joked, noting that his characters just had to make their way a few hundred feet out of a cave to find safety.

Laura Phillips has been married to John for more than 25 years. They have two teenage children, and the family keeps in touch with daily phone calls and e-mails and weekly video conferences. She said he is "living his dream of human exploration in space." "All through the ages there have been explorers, those people who are willing to venture forth and see what lies beyond the next horizon," she wrote. "Perhaps that is what Mr. Poyer describes in his novels, the human spirit of exploration that we all carry within us, whether or not we are able to blast off into space."

The Virginian-Pilot is published in Norfolk.

No comments: