Monday, February 9, 2004

Astronaut’s mail piled up
on half-year space visit

Coming down to Earth from the International Space Station was kind of a jolt for NASA astronaut Ed Lu.

He said his credit card had expired, his phone was disconnected and his car registration had run out.

"I got a ticket right away, and my car was parked," he said.

"You wouldn't believe how much mail and e-mail piled up," he continued. In the first week he had more than 3,300 e-mails from associates and friends, he said. "No junk at all."

He said he's had too much to do, "trying to get all my bills caught up," to think about another space mission soon.

Lu, a research physicist, did postdoctoral work at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy from 1992 to 1995. He calls Honolulu his hometown, along with Webster, N.Y.

He gave a public lecture here last week and was a judge and keynote speaker for high school students' competition in the Pacific Symposium for Science and Sustainability at UH.

Lu has been on three space missions, two on the shuttle Atlantis. In 1997 he was on a nine-day mission to dock with the Russian space station Mir. In September 2000 he was mission specialist and payload commander on a 12-day mission to construct the space station.

He and Russian Air Force Col. Yuri Malenchenko connected power, data and communications cables to the station in a spacewalk of more than six hours, 14 minutes, to prepare for a permanent crew.

In April last year, he and Malenchenko flew to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Lu was the first American astronaut to go on a space flight since the explosion of the shuttle Columbia Feb. 1, 2003, killing seven astronauts.

Asked about life on the space station in an interview Saturday at the symposium, he said: "It's good. It's busy. It's kind of fun. I was wondering beforehand what it was going to be like. It was never boring."

But he was away 10 months, he said, including 2 1/2 months in Russia preparing for the mission, six months at the 240-mile-high space station and another month in Russia. He has made 16 one-month trips to Russia in the past five years, he said.

He and his fiancee in Houston are planning a May wedding, he said.


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