ISS Captain Says He'll Be Happy to Return

ByBrad Liston

Feb. 16, 2001 -- The U.S. commanderof the International Space Station said on Thursday the triphas been fun so far, but he will be happy to hand off "a goodship" when a replacement crew arrives.

During an orbital news conference, Bill Shepherd, theExpedition One commander and a U.S. Navy captain, compared histime in space to a tour at sea.

"The first month you're kind of overjoyed and about thefourth or fifth month you're kind of ready to come home. Ithink we'll be happy to turn a good ship over to the nextcrew," he said.

Shepherd and his crewmates, Russians Yuro Gidzenko andSergei Krikalyov, have lived aboard the under-constructionstation since Nov. 2. The Expedition Two crew is set to arriveaboard the space shuttle Discovery the second week of March.Shepherd and his crew will catch a ride home on the return legof the Discovery voyage.

The space shuttle Atlantis is now docked to the station andits crew of five joined the station crew for the Thursday newsconference. Shepherd, the first American to command a spacestation since the three Skylab missions of the 1970s, took mostof the questions.

He said he has not altogether escaped feeling depressed,but if the one example he cited is typical, the mood has notlingered.

Shepherd Admits Depression

He reported that earlier in the week he felt depressedafter long, fruitless hours trying to repair an airrevitalization system.

"Then I had a couple of cups of coffee and thought about itand got up the next day and life was normal again," he said. Some U.S. astronauts who flew aboard the Russian Mirstation in the 1990s reported depression as a consequence oflengthy tours, close confinement and struggles with the Russianlanguage, among other factors.

Two space-shuttle crews have visited the InternationalSpace Station during the Expedition One mission, but Shepherdsaid the visiting astronauts work on such a tight schedule thatsocializing has been kept to a minimum.

"I think that the toughest thing is kind of watching themcoming and going for a week and not really having any down timeto sit there and relax. We did a little bit of yakking lastnight. It was very good," Shepherd said.

The Atlantis crew brought with it a $1.4 billion laboratorymodule named Destiny and installed it on the station, addingmore than 40 percent to the habitable arena in which thestation crew can live and work.

Asked what that meant to him, Krikalyov, who is somethingof an acrobat in zero gravity, said, "We can fly, literallyfly, through the station."

Atlantis commander Ken Cockrell, a shuttle veteran makinghis first trip to the station, commented on "the great amountof space compared to what I'm used to. Coming onboard thisstation and having a little room to live and work really made abig impression on me."

The addition of Destiny in fact made the InternationalSpace Station the largest spacecraft ever to fly.

Should a Millionaire Visit?

Shepherd also was asked about Dennis Tito, the Californiamillionaire who has paid $20 million to Mircorp, thecorporation that is trying to secure a seat for him on a Soyuzspacecraft destined for a station visit.

The Russians have said they like the idea, but the EuropeanSpace Agency, one of the international partners in thespace-station project, has opposed it. NASA has remainednoncommittal.

But Shepherd said he saw some value in the idea.

"Space needs to be less an environment for very specializedand select people and more of a place where we normally liveand work and do business. This is just a step in thatdirection," he said.

While the news conference was under way, four 800-pound(360-kg) gyroscopes designed to orient the station sufferedtheir first mishap.

One of the gyros, which were activated shortly afterDestiny was installed, momentarily failed, although anautomatic recycling of the software brought it back tooperation.

Mission Control was still studying the failure but leadflight director Bob Castle said he was not too concerned. "It appears to be some kind of transient [glitch] andappears to be fine," he said.

Atlantis was scheduled to depart the station today andland at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday.

The space station will remain under construction until 2006and is expected to cost $95 billion to build and operate. TheUnited Sates, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada are partners theproject.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events