MONTREAL – Canada’s longest-travelling astronaut sent home the closest thing to an anniversary card from outer space Thursday.
As he celebrated his Canadian record-setting 100th day aboard the International Space Station, Bob Thirsk sent an eight-page note describing his extraterrestrial life. He said he’s travelled 70 million kilometres, watched 16 sunrises and sunsets in a single day, and sipped coffee from a bag through a straw.
He said he still can’t believe how fortunate he is.
However, the ever-smiling astronaut is looking a lot skinnier these days because of the effects of weightlessness.
The so-called “chicken-leg syndrome” still hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of Canada’s space voyager, who is now more than half-way through his six-month visit.
“I pinch myself in disbelief as I contemplate my good fortune,” he wrote for a blog set up by the Canadian Space Agency.
Even though he’s been working out on fitness machines, Thirsk said many of his bones and muscles “have been on vacation for three months.”
“In weightlessness, there is a headward shift of body fluids that results in a slight rounding of my face and thinning of my legs,” he reported.
On the positive side, the shift has smoothed out the wrinkles around the space veteran’s eyes and forehead.
“I haven’t driven a car in three months, and yet I’ve travelled 70 million kilometres,” Thirsk joked.
During the past three months, the B.C. native has also helped repair a broken toilet and was visited by an “extraterrestrial” friend – fellow Canadian Julie Payette – in mid-July.
That marked the first time there have been two Canadians living and working in space at the same time.
Payette was ferried up to Thirsk on board the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour during her own 16-day mission.
Thirsk admitted that there have been some failures which he described as “minor troubles.”
He said the systems that scrub carbon dioxide out of the cabin atmosphere and provide breathing oxygen both failed recently and needed to be fixed.
He also quashed any suggestion that his home-away-from-home resembled the glossy space stations sometimes depicted in science fiction.
“The layout of cables, hoses and computers make sense to me, but to a newcomer, it must be bewildering,” Thirsk said.
He noted that velcro, clips and duct tape are used to hold things down, there’s no bathtub or shower, and clothing gets changed only after a week or two.
But through it all, Thirsk has remained in regular contact with his family of three – thanks to weekly video conference calls beamed down to their living room in Houston.
He also admitted to breaking evening curfew to write emails to his youngest son Aiden.
Thirsk said that weekends mimic life on Earth – with he and his crewmates catching up on sleep and housecleaning.
He arrived at the space outpost May 29 on a Russian Soyuz vessel and isn’t due to set foot back on Earth until Nov. 23.
“I’ve grown accustomed to the station’s sounds, smells and rhythm of life,” he wrote.
“I will miss it when I eventually leave. It will be like moving away from a childhood home that is rich with family memories.”