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Space station astronaut has mixed emotions about returning to Earth

Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – The first woman to live on the international space station said Wednesday she has mixed emotions about returning to Earth next week after 5 1/2 months in orbit.

Astronaut Susan Helms can’t wait to see her parents and her sisters, one of whom is about to give birth if she hasn’t already. But she’ll miss the peace of space.

”I don’t think I appreciated until I got here how much noise we have in our daily lives, everything from phones ringing to driving cars, to you name it,” Helms told a TV interviewer.

”We don’t have cars driving by and we don’t have radios going or cable TV or any of these things, and it’s basically living a lifestyle that is quite a bit simpler,” she said. ”It has helped me to live a more peaceful life up here with a lot less stress.”

Helms, 43, an Air Force colonel, closed out her Houston apartment before she flew to space station Alpha last March. She put all her belongings in storage.

”So right now, this is my home and I’m not quite ready to uproot,” said Helms, who is single. ”But it looks like we’ve got a new crew here and they’re going to go ahead and kick us out.”

Helms, Jim Voss and their commander, Yuri Usachev, were replaced Monday by a fresh crew led by NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson. The night before space shuttle Discovery arrived with the new expedition team, the three space station residents had fun in weightlessness, doing flips and spins ”just to get one last go at it.”

”We didn’t play around a whole lot during the five months,” Helms explained.

Helms, Usachev and Voss – the space station’s second resident crew – helped install a robot arm and an air lock during their mission, and got the laboratory going. Their work was hampered by repeated computer problems and start-up trouble with the robot arm.

Helms is only the second American woman to live on a space station; the third one does not arrive until next spring.

The first, Shannon Lucid, spent six months on Russia’s Mir in 1996. Lucid still holds NASA’s overall space endurance record with her 188-day mission.

Helms and her crew will have logged 167 days in orbit if they land next Wednesday as planned.

The 10 astronauts and cosmonauts on the joined shuttle and station spent Wednesday loading dirty clothes, trash and unused equipment into a cargo carrier for return to Earth. Voss urged Mission Control to let them stuff in as much packing foam as possible.

”There is very little extra stowage space up here … we had foam just stuck everywhere,” he said.

The space station, meanwhile, marks a milestone Thursday. It will be 1,000 days that the first piece was launched in November 1998.

NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov