Imagine yourself in a decaying space station far away from the atmosphere you never realized you needed so badly, not knowing if the next malfunction would kill you or merely keep you busy. Dr. Jerry M. Linenger experienced just this and describes his harrowing but ennobling five months aboard Mir
in Off the Planet
, a memoir that evokes the excitement of living every day as a life-threatening adventure. Linenger's very personal writing style draws the reader into the story quickly, breezing through his childhood, Annapolis training, medical school, and selection as an astronaut, then moving quickly to the Mir
assignment and its aftermath.
Linenger isn't shy about sharing his opinions. Chapter titles like "Broken Trust" and "An Attempted Coverup" show his feelings about the bizarre relationship between the crew and mission control that may have kept him and his Russian comrades in constant danger. He also heaps praise on his fellow crew members and family for their strength and perseverance throughout the mission--between communication difficulties, the cloud of doubt surrounding the station's systems, and problems like fires and toxic fumes, it's a wonder anyone survived with their sanity intact. The full-color pictures accompanying the text add further insight into life aboard Mir. --Rob Lightner
The author, a NASA astronaut, orbited the earth more than two thousand times in the space station Mir and became the first American to spacewalk outside a foreign spacecraft. But he paid a high price for these distinctions. Inside, Mir was as mess, and several power failures lefts its inhabitants in total darkness. Worst of all, Linenger reports, was the lack of professionalism among their Russian handlers. "Mission control in Moscow became our enemy rather than our friend." he writes, "our nemesis rather than our support structure." Mission control threatened to cut the Russian astronauts pay if they performed poorly, and dangled bonuses for doing well. And mission control's propensity to micromanage was so extreme that the astronauts had their every activity programmed down to the minute. (The Washington Post Book World