ISS Captain Says He'll Be Happy to Return

The U.S. commander of the International Space Station said on Thursday the trip has been fun so far, but he will be happy to hand off "a good ship" when a replacement crew arrives.

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

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

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

The space shuttle Atlantis is now docked to the station and its crew of five joined the station crew for the Thursday news conference. Shepherd, the first American to command a space station since the three Skylab missions of the 1970s, took most of the questions.

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

Shepherd Admits Depression

He reported that earlier in the week he felt depressed after long, fruitless hours trying to repair an air revitalization system.

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

Two space-shuttle crews have visited the International Space Station during the Expedition One mission, but Shepherd said the visiting astronauts work on such a tight schedule that socializing has been kept to a minimum.

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

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

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

Atlantis commander Ken Cockrell, a shuttle veteran making his first trip to the station, commented on "the great amount of space compared to what I'm used to. Coming onboard this station and having a little room to live and work really made a big impression on me."

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

Should a Millionaire Visit?

Shepherd also was asked about Dennis Tito, the California millionaire who has paid $20 million to Mircorp, the corporation that is trying to secure a seat for him on a Soyuz spacecraft destined for a station visit.

The Russians have said they like the idea, but the European Space Agency, one of the international partners in the space-station project, has opposed it. NASA has remained noncommittal.

But Shepherd said he saw some value in the idea.

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

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

One of the gyros, which were activated shortly after Destiny was installed, momentarily failed, although an automatic recycling of the software brought it back to operation.

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

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

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