Expedition Six Space Chronicles #19

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2003

image By: ISS Science Officer Don Pettit

Homeward Bound

It is now time to go home. As much as I like being here, I realize that this is not home, and it is time to return. There are new frontiers to explore on Earth as a family. There are two little boys with wide-open eyes ready to explore the world, and it is time for me to be there and learn with them. It is always best to stop an endeavor while you are still in the midst of enjoyment; this will leave the best memories and instill a strong desire to do it all over again.

The feeling of being home is directly proportional to how far you have traveled. When you go out to dinner, you feel home when you pull into the driveway. When you go for a drive to a state park some distance out of town, you feel home when you enter the outskirts of your city. When you drive across the United States, perhaps on one of those memorable family vacations, you get this warm feeling of being home when you cross over your state line. When you go on international travels, particularly when returning from places with radically different cultures, you feel home the first place your airplane lands on U.S. soil. You may still be 2,000 miles from home, but you have this wonderful sensation in your heart that speaks out to you.

After having been on Space Station for nearly six months, we will be returning on the Soyuz spacecraft and be landing on the desert plains of Kazakhstan. When our capsule goes thump on those desert flats, we will be literally on the opposite side of the world, nearly 12,000 miles from home. Yet once normal breathing resumes, we will have this warm sensation inside that we are home. I can picture sometime in the future, a crew will be returning from Mars and after inserting themselves into low Earth orbit, perhaps from an aero-braking maneuver, they will look down from their orbital vantage point at this blue jewel circling below and say, "We are home."

We will be returning home on the Soyuz spacecraft. Unlike the Space Shuttle, there is precious little room for personal effects. I can return with perhaps three small items that will fit in my pocket. What will I choose? The combination pocket tools I brought engraved with my boys' names? There is one for each. I have been using them for my Space Station repair work and figured the boys would like to have something that daddy used to repair Space Station. I can picture my boys using them at Boy Scout jamboree. Should I return with my wife's favorite necklace, a small part of her that I brought along, much like before a great battle, a knight might keep the handkerchief from his lady? When I have periodically looked at this necklace, pleasant memories would come to mind. And I would smile.

After careful thought, I decided to bring none of these items home. I can always replace the pocket tools and I can buy my wife another necklace. There is no room for this kind of sentiment in the Soyuz spacecraft. What I have decided to bring home is truly unique to Space Station, something money and a trip to the shopping mall can never replace. I have decided to bring home my spoons. I have three Russian-made spoons. They are simple in design, being unpretentiously stamped from stainless steel. A small square embossed into the handle is the only visible marking. There is a hole in the handle for attaching a string so it won't float away. In space, it is not good to lose your spoon. While seemingly a good idea, eating with strings attached is a pain so we take our chances with the universe and cut our strings. What are truly unique about these spoons are their gracefully long handles. They are twice as long as a normal spoon yet the spoon part is standard teaspoon-sized. They allow one to gracefully shovel in dinner from deep plastic food pouches without getting your fingers all sticky-gooey with the stuff you are attempting to eat. They will make great camping spoons.

Using these long handled spoons, I can picture my boys and I sitting around a campfire, eating beans out of the fire-charred can they were cooked in. As we chat about our world, our eyes will follow the sparks as they rise in the draft of hot air. Perhaps we will look at the stars and see Space Station pass overhead.

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