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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mir Mail Captures Wolf's World

Astronaut David Wolf says life on the orbiting Mir space station can be distinctly unglamorous, with a load of chores that includes cleaning the toilet and scrubbing fluff from air filters.

"Because the crews before us were so busy fighting alligators it's now up to us to return this remarkable ship into top shape," he wrote to friends on Earth. The "alligators" were in fact a fire, a crash and other mishaps.

"Unfortunately for me, that means things like organizing and cleaning -- tasks my mother can attest to that I didn't always excel at back on Earth," he wrote. "But she sure would be proud of me now. I spent most of today in the bathroom, organizing and cleaning it, not using it."

Wolf, 41, joined the 11-year-old space station in late September. Since arriving, Wolf, a medical doctor and researcher, has taken part in experiments and repairs to the station, which Russia hopes to keep in orbit until early 1999. He has also written a series of e-mail letters home, distinctive for their sense of humor, boyish enthusiasm and self-deprecating style.

"One of the things I am learning is that you don't have to be a rocket scientist [even though that is what we are] to make a real difference on Mir," Wolf wrote.

"We have a busy life up here. It definitely has its moments. Micro-gravity can be a very difficult, even frustrating, place to work. It can also be incredible fun. A dream come true. The work days are long but there really isn't anywhere else much to go."

In many of his letters Wolf expresses admiration for Mir, warts and all. "This ship literally reeks of both history and character. It's a 'fixer upper' all right but one you would take a long trip with in a heartbeat," he said. "Its overall character brings forth the image of the 'time machine' from H.G. Wells' classic."

Inside one finds many odd relics of missions past, he says. "Signatures and instruction placards written by the hands of over a decade of cosmonauts. ... Tables with things on both sides. A bicycle with no seat. A set of heavy tools held in place by rubber bands," he wrote.

He also marvels at Mir's life support systems, which recycle urine and sweat into air and water.

"The water for Elektron is really evaporatively purified urine, produced by the adjacent urine reclamation system. The toilet of course, would then be directly across the aisle. Pretty efficient, huh?" he wrote. But maintaining systems such as the Elektron oxygen generator require labor befitting a space janitor.

"Here, I carefully pump out the grapefruit size wobbling globes of water," he wrote. "A clumsy move sends water scattering in all directions. This chore generally serves as a morning shower."

Like the previous American astronaut on Mir, Wolf also lost his bedroom, in his case after a leak developed in the Kvant-2 hatch next to his cabin. Wolf now says he sleeps near a crammed storage area of the Kristall module, where he found himself a bit disoriented after waking up on the ceiling one morning.

"Pushed a space shuttle-delivered water bag away from my face. Fumbled in the blackness of the night side for that spot of Velcro holding my mini-maglite," he described. "Floated out of the marginally tethered sleeping bag and banged my head on the helmet of a ragged old spacesuit, long since cannibalized for parts."

British-born Michael Foale, NASA's previous Mir astronaut, saw the door to his living quarters shut for good in June when a Mir cargo ship punctured the Spektr module he called home.

"Can't help but take an eerie glance at the sealed off Spektr module hatch," Wolf described in one e-mail. "Likely, humans will never venture back into this airless laboratory."