With a strikingly entertaining and informative approach, astronaut Jeffrey A. Hoffman shares the world inside a space shuttle and a space traveler's psyche during a two-part series on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" today and tomorrow.
Hoffman, the crew's astronomer, took his first space flight in April on the Discovery, a history-making journey with Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) aboard as a passenger and a supporting cast of equipment failures. Hoffman kept an audio diary, and excerpts from his tapes will be presented today and tomorrow on the news show, which begins on WETA-FM (90.9) at 5 p.m. and on WAMU-FM (88.5) at 6:30.
What he shares is a fascinating personal tour that the network has thankfully given enough time -- each segment is a whopping 26 minutes. In its edited version, though, the program conveys the job tasks but not the suspense of the Discovery voyage.
He discusses the protocol of moving around the shuttle, the demands of the unexpected, fear and safety, and naturally the view.
". . . just looking at darkness come on, the sight of the ice particles in front of the darkness. Well, it is like fireflies. . . . The black of space is the blackest black I have ever seen."
Luckily, Hoffman's humor balances the physics of the flight and the rosy travelogue. At one point, he observes that the shuttle toilet "has the most magnificent view of any bathroom I have ever seen in my life." Later he muses on the need for apples equipped with Velcro for consumption in zero-gravity and the necessity for Margaret Rhea Seddon to move upstairs when the men put on their long underwear for reentry.
Sometimes Hoffman will include some wonderful detail that begs for explanation and quickly Susan Stamberg, the cohost of the programs, steps in to elaborate. Hoffman gained 1 1/2 inches on his 6-foot-2-inch frame in the journey. "I was expecting to grow because this is something that has been measured . . . but not that fast. The gravity load is taken off your spine and the disks between the bones of the spinal column fill up with liquid," he explains.
Hoffman, who took the first unscheduled space walk in an unsuccessful effort to repair a communications satellite, says the crew still felt a sense of accomplishment. "We really felt elation . . . and pride that overshadowed the disappointment," he says.