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Too far from home and I'm sure we all remember those horrible days in 2003 when the space shuttle exploded and three of our astronauts were left in space on the space station without a way to get home and after a while the story kind of faded from the national review because there it just went on for a while but they were still stuck-up there. Chris who is Canadian I hope he won't mind that I tell you that - is originally a sports writer although he happened into that rather accidentally a story which I would like him to tell you. He has written for Esquire and he won the 2005 National Magazine Award for feature writing for the story that became the basis for this book. He has also appeared in best American magazine writing and the best American sports writing anthologies. He lives in Canada. He is here tonight to talk about this marvelous book, so please welcome Chris Jones. Thanks. Hi guys, thanks for coming. Thanks for the introduction. I guess I will start just introducing myself a little bit. I'm a writer for Esquire Magazine. I had mentioned in my original break in the journalism actually did a master's in urban design which I have never used for one moment in my life. Well I can draw 75 different species of tree from an overhead perspective which is a useful skill sometimes. It's a it dawned on me that I didn't want to color and paste for my whole life and so journalism became kind of a natural extension of I think my curiosity just like talking to people and finding it more about you know the world around us. Luckily a new newspaper was starting up in Canada and they ran out of moneys, they hired a bunch of young kids sort of take jobs that they had no other money to fill and I got one of those jobs and I end up a sports writer only because you know I kept getting calls from all the different sections of the paper news, arts, sports and business and I kept thinking oh well they are they are fighting over me. They want me so bad, then as it turns out they were fighting over who had to take me and sports finally consented because I wouldn't count against their hiring quota. So that was my glorious introduction to writing. I was on the National Post for a few years, left went to Esquire Magazine and started there as a sports writer and this book in a lot of ways the story the original story was my way of sort of cleansing my soul. You know, if people will play sports if that's sort of a fairly useless contribution to society you know, I was like where am I if I'm watching these guys play sports. So I was on the hunt for a story that was sort of I think that loose some creativity in me and also sort of make me feel better about what I was writing about and the morning of February 1st 2003, I happened to be watching the news and watch Columbia disintegrate. I have never been able to explain why because I'm not particularly a space guy but immediately my mind went to the three guys who were in the International Space Station and called I my editor that afternoon and I said, "You know, I bet that this is an amazing day in space and I think we should write about it" and he pointed out quite wisely that they would be very hard to talk to and so we left that story lie down for a while. You know, several weeks and months before they finally came home and there were sort of very short announcements in very short article on local papers and using language like a dramatic descent back to earth so I did some more checking into it and sure enough it was a dramatic descent and I pictured it again as far as I listened you know the story is not complete they're home and it was exciting the way they came home and I think we should look at that. And my editor said you are right, it's really a good story but someone else is going to write it. It takes sort of three or four months to get something in a magazine and so we waited and waited for someone else to write about it and no one ever did. It was just one of those strange stories for whatever reason slipped through the cracks and our stories like that. You know, in some ways the best thing you can do as a journalist is to look for those stories that have somehow been missed. I can't explain why the story was missed. For me it was sort of a natural thing to write about. Iraq was starting up and SARS was sort of rearing its head and Elizabeth Smart was found and so there were lots of big news stories at the time but for me this was sort of a natural like almost like a serial old-fashioned serial drama. You know, these guys went up and their launch was dramatic and then you know this heartbreaking day on February 1st and then the return was, you know, how do we get them home and then they came home and I couldn't believe that no one had written about it. But as it turns out I'm very glad that had happened because I got to write the story for Esquire. It was nicely received by everyone except for NASA oh no, NASA didn't mind the story but then when I told them I want to write a book NASA decided that was not a good idea and so this book was written, you know, without any cooperation from NASA, but luckily a lot of the people I needed to talk to, left NASA and a couple of people who I really needed to talk to kind of went behind NASA's back. But I will keep those people secret because they would still like their jobs I think. I guess I will start to describe the story a little bit. There is three main characters - these three guys, two Americans and a Russian. Every crew in the International National Space Station has a mixture of Americans and Russians. They were the sixth crew, expedition six, the sixth crew to be on a space station. And in some ways they are almost like characters out of a movie. The commander of the mission the guy named Ken Bowersox is exactly what you think of when you think of action guy blue-eyed, strong jawed, navy pilot, test pilot have been in space four times before, highly experienced, pretty serious minded but - you know if you wanted if you have to pick a one guy to fly the plane that you needed to land he will be your guy. The second American is a guy named Don Pettit and in some ways he is sort of the polar opposite to Ken. Don the scientist had tried to get into NASA three times was always rejected. Fourth time he got into NASA, had - but never have been in space before this mission and in fact wasn't supposed to be on this mission at all. The guy named Don Thomas was in line ahead of him, but Don approached - NASA has sort of a arbitrary radiation threshold and if you near this red line because going in a space you tend to absorb more radiation that you do on earth they ground you for fear that you will retire you know lumpy with tumors and Don was Don Thomas was scratched at the last minute and Don Pettit was brought up to replacement. The third guy is the Russian, Nikolai Budarin and in some ways he is sort of a comic relief of the story because doesn't speak lot of English, you know, a big eater sort of hung out a lot in space station was often on the phone calling friends and stuff because he want to speak some Russian, but you know seriously he is a you know, heavily decorated astronaut have been here twice, and among these three guys he was the most experienced at a long duration in mission. And Nikolai you know, in some ways Don and Ken sort of spied on Nikolai for lessons on how to live in space and what I tried to do with the book instead of just having a plain old adventure story where they go up and bad things happen and how do we get them down I also tried to talk about, you know, life in space and how you adjust to living in space and everything we take for granted, everything that we, you know something like gravity which we dealt with since we were born and is completely part of our subconscious. These guys are suddenly adjusting to a weightless life, something as simple as laundry. You know there are two great mysteries is in the Universe, what's at the bottom of a black hole and how you have enough clean underwear to last 14 week mission at the space station. Laundry is a very tough thing to do. Cutting your hair you know they have the Flowbee that you have seen on you know TV with the hose in the vacuum and so they used to cut their hair. People always asked how do they go to the bathroom and I say, Don told me a funny story not to get too profane but I shall I'm going to go. NASA had originally for guys if they had to urinate they had a condom with a hose on it and they would ask their astronauts what size condom do they need. And of course all the astronauts would say I need a giant condom and problem with that of course all these astronauts ended up peeing all over themselves and so NASA then said you know they did redid their sizing and so what was once a small condom became huge condom, what was a medium condom was the ginormous condom, you know, gargantuan, titan, heroic all the way up to the Zeus and everyone still picked the Zeus and they still peed all over themselves. So finally NASA came up with this hose with some suction and you kind of ease your way toward the hose into a vacuum urinate in the hose but of course every Rookie astronaut and Don Pettit was no exception you know sort of get little absentminded becomes too intimate with the hose and it's a mistake apparently you only make once, not a comfortable experience. But these are the things that sort of made up their life. The space station is a sort of our stepping stone to get to the moon or our stepping stone to get to Mars and while they are doing scientific experiments they are doing things like material testing and so on. The main job is to figure out how to live comfortably in space, how to make space habitable, how so that, you know, the guys who when they colonize the moon when they colonize Mars know how do things like cut their hair and as their mission - you know, went along these three guys were very got very comfortable, they were happy up there, you know, every time they looked at the window the sunrise - the sunsets, you know, 14 sunrises and sunsets everyday because of the way the'yre orbiting the earth you know they are looking at starlight that isn't white starlight that's red or yellow or green because it isn't filtered by the atmosphere. There is a peace and tranquility, their days are unfolding they want them to there is no traffic and they do not have to cut the grass, there is no rain bothering them. They sort of were very comfortable in their lives until February 1st when they were shaken out of this sort of very blissful existence in a lot of ways. That day was a Saturday and Saturdays are easy days on the space station you do some cleaning, you do some puttering, you can do some of your science experiments. But there isn't that much scheduled - when suddenly the radio crackled and someone on the ground asked them to stand by. Now these guys in backs of their minds knew the Columbia was coming home that day, but it wasn't something they are really thinking about. They communicated while they were in space together. Columbia was orbiting space station was orbiting, they never docked together but Don Pettit was a good friend especially with the pilot of Columbia and they would have these ongoing conversations particularly about chess they had an ongoing chess game. Don is this master inventor and he come up with a which is patented, a chessboard for space, so you can play weightless chess made out of velcro mostly. And Columbia's last communication with the space station was Willy passing along the message E2 to E4. You know, I will like to make this move and Don, you know, moves this piece on his chessboard his little you know, his little sleeping cabin which is the size of a phone booth makes that move - sort of falls asleep thinking about his next move and didn't really think again about Columbia until they are told to standby and a man named Jefferson Howell who was the head of the Johnson Space Center at that time - got on the radio and said, guys, we got some bad news and because that was him delivering this news they knew immediately what his next words would be which were - we have lost the vehicle. And at that moment the guys on the space station sort of they were separated from the reality in some ways, the distant 250 miles between them and earth sort of protected them in some ways and they thought, well, maybe some of the evacuation systems worked, maybe our friends are floating down to earth under parachutes. They couldn't see, you know, the pictures that we saw that morning. They couldn't see shuttle breaking up. They couldn't see the astronaut's helmet lying on the grass. They couldn't see, you know the Gulf Coast that have new water hazard, cause the engine block had had fallen on the 6th fairway so hard they had broken the water table. None of that was reality to them. Instead they sort of - again had the sort of faint hope that everything would workout until Nikki Pettit Don Pettit's wife demanded to speak to them, and they - she called them up and said Don said the same thing that he had said to NASA - hopefully everything is working out and she said, no Don, you have to understand it's not working out. You know your friends are gone. Pieces of the shuttle were scattered all over Texas and she wasn't doing that to be mean, but she needed Don to get to the point where everyone else was. She needed to bridge that gap between earth and space and in that moment Don and the other guys in the crew finally realized the severity of the situation. Not only had they lost their seven friends, but they knew from our experience with Challenger that they have lost their ride home as well. They knew that the shuttle obviously would be grounded, who knows for how long and that they really going to stay in space station or they are going to have to find another way home. Originally NASA called up and said, we are going to need you to be up there for a year, maybe two years and these were guys with wives and families and you know food and water's running out in the kitchen and you know how we are going to do this and you know they are trained for the situation and they are strong and brave guys and they said all the right things, we can do this, we believe in ourselves so we can do this. And I think at least part of them did believe that. Well, some part of them also wondered, you know, now with the suddenly open-ended mission when will we get home and how will we get home. These were sort of the overarching questions that shadowed them for the rest of their mission. While they were up there for me, you know, I don't know how to explain this exactly, but the bravery of these guys for me it's sort of fascinating. How they do these things that - the more I learned about the shuttle, for instance, the less likely it was that I would ever, you know, consent to flying on this thing. When I started working on the book and someone said you want to go to space I would be like, yeah, who doesn't want to go to space. Now I know what I know. There is no way you would ever get me on that thing. I mean this is the most it's a beautiful machine it's a monumental miracle in so many ways, but it is fragile. Like there are little plastic owls down in Florida guarding this thing from woodpeckers because a woodpecker can bring it down. In my mind, that's a very scary scenario and I would not get on this. Another sort of even scarier scenario for me is the spacewalk and while these guys were on station after Columbia starting, you know, adjust to their new life, their open-ended mission they are asked to go outside. Piece of space station started working itself loose on a radiator if it wasn't fixed you know there can be some severe problems and again for me the idea of opening this hatch and staring out in the blackness or looking through your feet and seeing earth 250 miles below your feet Ken Bowersox you know is has sort of straight laced and solid as he is described those moments where you're sort of looking, you know, there is my feet and there is the earth and that's really a long way and because of the rotation of the space station and so on you constantly feels like you are falling, like you have those dreams really sort of wake up and you had the idea of sort of riding the ship through the night while feeling like you are falling. I guess can't even imagine those moments. And when they are describing these things you know one of the more funny moments researching the book for me was Ken Bowersox was telling me all these great details about the spacewalks and so on and then he stops and says, you know, why you why you are writing this book? And I said, well, it's a fascinating story drama and he was like I didn't I don't think it's that interesting and I was like, well, that's because you are crazy man and your your measure of interest is much different than an ordinary person's measure of interest. He couldn't see the drama in a spacewalk. And then you have someone like Don Pettit saying, you know, he is talking about, you know, they past through the night and they were told to sort of hunker down while they are passing through the 40 minutes that is night while they were on the space station and Don talked about crawling to the front of the space station, riding on the front of it turning off this helmet spotlight just being in pitch blackness and just racing around the earth and looking up this red and yellow and green stars and thinking of Christmas lights and for him, you know, any risk they take any part of that danger is completely dwarfed by the reward he has, you know, for moments like that. And in some ways I can understand I mean, I - you know I can't imagine what that feeling is like but I can also understand why someone like Don might be driven to experience that. As the mission continued people on the ground are going, everyone in the NASA is thinking, how are we getting these guys back? Meanwhile the guys up there not thinking about coming home at this point they are happy there, we are going to be up here for two years - great, it's beautiful, we love this place. So in some ways just sort of these divergent path but in NASA there were sort of some real concerns developing, about food and water especially Nikolai Budarin the Russian had developed a tumor. There was suddenly this idea that these guys couldn't really stay up there forever, not to mention the fact that Don Pettit, for example has had two kids who turned two while he was down there - while he was in space. The idea of them being four before he could get home is sort of striking people in NASA's not a very good idea. But there were only so many options to get from earth to space and space to earth and there is the shuttle which was grounded and there was the Russian Soyuz Capsule which was attached to the side of the space station like a lifeboat. This thing is a workhorse but it is old technology, it is ugly technology. When we were on the moon the Russians were using Soyuz and they are still using Soyuz. The only sort of caveat to this the only footnote to this particular ship is the Americans said, guys, you know, we need something a little better we need something to update it. So the Russians consented to improving the computer system, the software. They never flight tested it. So this particular Soyuz had never actually traveled up, they have never tested the system going down. And the Soyuz is completely automated. Well not completely I mean that the astronauts have to throw some switches and so on. But the ground is not controlling it and the guys inside are not controlling it. The machine has a mind of its own. And in this case they had just replaced the mind. And no one really knew if it would if for sure it would work. So Sean. O'Keefe who is NASA's Administrator at this point is a budget guy, he is not a space guy, he was brought in to sort of keep NASA's budget under control. In fact his last act before coming to NASA was to deny NASA extra funding for the international space station. So a fairly chilly reception for Sean O'Keefe in Houston and he is sort of being explained that you know all these things about Soyuz, Oh it's automated and you know blah, blah, blah, blah, blah you know once it crashed in a mountain and once it landed in a lake and they almost froze to death and the first guy died I guess the parachute tangled on the way down and another crew died because an air valve cracked and he is sort of saying, you know, he is sitting there at his desk and well, what am I supposed to do and then his advisors are saying by the we can't abandon the station so if you bring them home we got to send some guys back up. So he is saying, you know, what the heck kind of dilemma is this? But in some ways there was no choice. If they were going to bring them home it was Soyuz, if they were going to put people back up it was Soyuz. So he finally made the only decision he could make Soyuz. They sent two guys up, two light eaters, they picked out, sent them up, along with some food and water on an unmanned Russian freighter called The Progress, suddenly there is five people in the space station it's a little crowded all of a sudden Don, Ken and Nikolai are suddenly wondering you know how we are going to adjust the life on earth it is the first two people they have seen in nearly six months. And you know for me one of the most interesting part of the story is how the calluses that we all have from life on earth. Our interactions with each other, every time we turn on the television what we see, every time we drive on the freeway, all those calluses had worn away off these guys and they sort of talk you about this one particular moment where they finally realized this had happened to them. They decide to watch a film called Tank Girl, terrible movie. But with the selection of movies up there they decide they are going to watch Tank Girl and they lasted about 20 minutes. Violent, women in bikinis, loud, colorful, explosions, people dying and they were crawling in their sleeping bags that night shaking. They were trembling, because like kids they have been told the ghost story around the campfire. And that's when they realized maybe we have been away too long, maybe really it is time for us to get back. Otherwise maybe we will never be able to readjust to that life on earth. They crawled into the Soyuz they are laying on their backs, knees pulled to their chest, pretty uncomfortable position. They depart one and half times around the earth, everything is fine, the drinking water, taking - eating salt tablets as they try to sort of keep the sickness down when they get back on earth. This little deorbit rocket is fired to slow the capsule down enough to enter the earth's atmosphere and that ultimately atmosphere is what slows it down enough to return it to the earth surface. What they don't know is that the rockets don't quite work. They fired little too late because of that software that have been loaded up and never tested and suddenly they are sort of looking out their window they see these two little parts of the Soyuz sort of spin-off and burn up. And I think, well, that's pretty cool. And those modules are supposed to spin-off but they are not supposed to be able to see it they got the wrong altitude. They don't know this until a light shines in front of them, the B.S. light, incidentally, and that tells them we are in trouble, the computer saying we got to get back. And they enter something called ballistic descendant, again no control over this. Instead of a nice gradual return to earth they are pointed at the Kazakhstan Steps and they are going down the fastest way possible. The window is filled with fire and there is audio of this, the audio is tremendous Nikolai is counting up to G's looking at those gauge, one G, two G, three G kind of voice starting to strain four G's, five G's, their tongues are rolling back on their throats, their ribcages started spreading apart, spine start compressing. There is over a ton of weight on their chests and these are guys who have been in the space now for almost six months. You know, they had the the muscles that we used to get out of the bed in the morning, they haven't been using. Six G's, seven G's, eight G's, vibrating, big shaking fire at the window I mean that's incredible and listening to it you can just hear their voices - strain in their voices that you know blood pooling in the backs of their heads, they're near passed passing out at this point and luckily they started reaching low enough from the earth's atmosphere, they started to slow down. Meanwhile in Moscow everyone is oblivious to this. The Russians are not tracking this there is no way to know that they have entered ballistic dissenters, no way to know where they are. All that the wise and the NASA officials can see in mission control in Moscow is a nice cartoon of Soyuz bouncing down to earth and Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear coming out and having a picnic together. That's what they can see. They are oblivious of all of these until where are the guys are supposed to land at a very specific area, they don't show up and the rest of the crews are sitting there going where are these guys? They are supposed to be here. And immediately Sean O'Keefe who had been standing beside the runway in Florida waiting for Columbia, you know, watching that countdown clock come down to reach zero and the runway is still empty suddenly it's faced again with another empty space where another ship and more of his astronauts are supposed to be and they are not there. And I will leave the ending because I need you to buy the book and read it. But needless to say for writer this was sort of a dream scenario you have this this great drama this unreported drama and for me its sort of what I hope in reading the book is it is not only to appreciate what astronauts do but in some ways you know appreciate more, you know, the miracle of space travel or the fact that every time a shuttle doesn't blow up its incredible in some ways. That there are guys up in the space station right now - I am not sure how many Americans know that that's going on. Space travel has become in some ways kind of routine for us. The launch of expedition 6th space station didn't even get a brief in the New York Times. They - you know, a total vacuum and what I am hoping with this book is maybe in some small ways sort of awakens people what's going on in space and what's going on in earth and that these people who are just among us that these astronauts that this they are not extraordinary people you know a lot of ways they are physically very normal and but they are extraordinary in what you know - Tom Wolfe called the right staff for what Norman Mailer is called the iron of astronauts. These guys are amazing guys and I hope reading the book is sort of - by the time you come to the end you sort of appreciate how incredible they are and how incredible their journeys are. That this there is a transformative trip that changes their lives and I hope in someway you sort of read the book and not feel that you have been transformed but at least you come to appreciate what goes on everyday while we are talking about Anna Nicole Smith. I don't know why I am I don't want to close on Anna Nicole Smith. I'm going to talk about astronauts pooping in space, that's how I'll close. My favorite story about Don is talking about going to bathroom in space and he said every time he does a presentation the kids always ask how do you go to the bathroom in space and they have a toilet that you sit down on you know, you strap yourself in but the problem is everything is weightless in space. And so you have to have enough - as Don described it enough gunpowder in the can to get that projectile where it needs to go. And Don thought he had done the job at one point and was getting dressed you know he was hitching his pants back up and was suddenly tapped on the houlder by his friend the poop. I would rather end on that note on Anna Nicole Smith. I think that says everything about me. Thanks.