on January 13, 2004
Jerry Linenger wrote "Off the Planet" to describe his out-of-this-world (literally) experiences on the Mir spacestation, as an American astronaut working with the Russians. This autobiographical book goes into Jerry's adventures with Mir's copious mechanical problems, his reflections on life on earth, and the politics of the cooperative space program between Russia and the United States. I received this book after Jerry spoke at a conference I attended. I do not usually read books in this genre, but to my surprise, it was an entertaining read and I ended up purchasing another copy for my father.
The format of the book is not exactly chronological. Each chapter could be a standalone essay, focusing on a different event or issue on Mir. The early chapters introduce Jerry, and show the progression of his career up to his training for Mir. The last few chapters go into Jerry's newfound perspective on existence, and the difficult adaptation back to earth life.
Jerry's writing style is as direct and unceremonious as his speeches. He explains complicated scientific issues with ease, and even this liberal arts major could understand what he was talking about. He talks about lofty topics, like Russian-US relations. Then he'll move on to discuss how astronauts use the bathroom, or the difficulties of eating pretzels in space.
There have been quite a few criticisms of this book. Some have said that Jerry is egotistical. If he hadn't admitted this fault in the book, I wouldn't have noticed it. It seems appropriate for an accomplished astronaut to be proud of his work. Others claim that there is another side to the story, but there is always another side to the story. I know that I am reading about Mr. Linenger's perspective of the events on Mir, and I can put it into context with other published works.
I already agree with the sentiments with which Jerry Linenger sums up his book. He tells us that we should live each day as if it is our last, to enjoy all the natural bounties that the earth gives us, and to value our precious time on the planet. Each breath of oxygen and moment in the sunlight should be cherished. I completely agree. One way that this book has changed me is that it has made me more aware of the space program. When I hear about unmanned landings on Mars or even events on Mir, I perk up and listen more closely than I had in the past.
on November 4, 2002
Jerry Linenger is a former NASA astronaut who spent just over 132 days in space, most of it aboard the Russian space station Mir. During his stay, Dr. Linenger accomplished many first for an American astronaut. He became the first American to conduct a space walk from a foreign space station and in a non-American made spacesuit. During this five hour EVA, he and his Russian crewmate tested the newly designed Orlan-M Russian-built spacesuit. He and his crewmembers also performed a flyaround of the Mir in the Soyuz spacecraft, undocking from one docking port of the station and redocking at a different location.
While living aboard the MIR space station, Jerry Linenger and his two Russian crewmembers faced numerous difficulties, such as the most severe fire ever aboard an orbiting spacecraft, clearly the best written and most interesting section of the book, the failures of onboard systems (oxygen generator, carbon dioxide scrubbing, cooling line loop leaks, communication antenna tracking ability, urine collection and processing facility), a near collision with a resupply cargo ship during a manual docking system test, loss of station electrical power, and loss of attitude control resulting in a slow, uncontrolled tumble through space. In spite of these challenges and the added demands on their time due to the repair work, they still accomplished all mission goals: the space walk, the flyaround, and the completion off all the planned U.S. science experiments. All of these harrowing adventures and many others, plus the grind of his daily life aboard Mir, are recounted in this book.
I would have to agree with the numerous other reviewers that feel the Jerry Linenger has a big ego, but as someone who has had a lot of contact with astronauts over the years, his ego is only somewhat greater than the norm. The first example of this personality trait, is the title. The title states that he spend five months on Mir, but his stay on Mir, was just a little more than 4 months (132 days total mission time minus the travel time to and from Mir, about five days). There are lots of references to "I did ..." and he seems to forget that all of the hardware onboard any space vehicle has been designed for easy astronaut use to assure success. I know because that's what I do for a living.
All things considered, this book is definitely one of the better astronaut biographies and covers a period of human space flight that is not frequently examined, the Space Shuttle era. Furthermore, Dr. Linenger deserves kudos for writing the book himself.
on July 23, 2002
this book shows the truth about living in space. the author describes all the hardships that he and the crew went through
on April 19, 2002
I have not read Jerry Linenger's book yet but eagerly await it's arrival. I have had the opportunity or should I say privilege, to hear Jerry Linenger deliver a inspirational talk in Orlando, Fla. If his book is as good as his talk, it should be highly suggested reading for all of our Middle/High School age children and their parents. The objective of his delivery will certainly have one re-organizing their life into a perspective with great clearity and priority as well as motivating the human spirit to boundless levels without oratorical trickery. His honest-to-goodness examples of AMERICAN Hard Work, Relentless Strive, Patriotism, Bravery and Heroism, makes for a good AMERICAN story which we desperatly need during today's challenging times.
on March 5, 2002
"Off the Planet" is Jerry Linenger's memoir of the five months he spent aboard Mir, the Russian space station, but whether or not you will enjoy reading it depends entirely on how you get along with Linenger, a world-class contender in the Narcissism stakes.
While he claims his ego is only moderate compared with other jet jockeys, he is -- for once -- being modest. He believed early on that nothing is worth doing if it can't be done in public. He tells of watching the Apollo 11 astronauts walking on the moon and how he wants to be just like them, not for the adventure or thrill of exploration, but because of the attention they drew. When he was selected to join NASA, he didn't just phone his wife and say, "Honey, I'm in." No, he waited until just before their plane took off for their vacation and had one of the pilots make the announcement.
If you can set Linenger's ego aside for a moment -- and you know it would take a bulldozer and a couple sticks of gelignite to do it -- you'll find that he's written an excellent, richly-detailed account of his experiences in Russia and in space.
The U.S.-Russian joint effort came very close to being one of NASA's biggest failures. Originally designed to last five years, the station had been up for 11 and was literally falling apart. Warning alarms went off regularly. Hoses split, releasing antifreeze that the astronauts breathed. Devices broke down. There were numerous power failures. Garbage and broken equipment built up because there wasn't enough room in the spacecraft to get rid of it. Russian mission controllers lied to the astronauts about the dangers they were facing, berated them for failures that were not their fault, and treated the American astronauts like idiot step-children.
Then there were the life-threatening accidents. During Linenger's time aboard, a fire broke out in the equipment supplying oxygen. Despite the efforts of six men, it burned uncontrollably for over 15 minutes before putting itself out. Not only was no investigation held to determine its cause, but the Russians minimized the damage and blamed the astronauts. This censor-and-blame attitude wouldn't have been countenanced in NASA, but for the sake of U.S.-Russian relations, they went along with it. If the fire hadn't burned itself out, there would have been six dead men in space, and NASA Administrator Dan Goldin would have been held responsible for putting American astronauts into danger. It's clear from Linenger's account that only the heroic actions of the astronauts and cosmonauts kept the station running for as long as it did.
The book goes into great detail about the nuts-and-bolts of life aboard Mir: the sounds, the smells, the daily schedule and relentless work needed to keep her flying. Linenger is a generous host, willing to reveal everything. One of the more fascinating sections described his earth-observation duties. Driven by his desire to become "a world-class geographer," he goes into detail about how he accomplished his goal. I'm fascinated about how some people can do so much while others -- myself included -- do so little. Time management, for me, is limited to finding a watch I can wear longer than two weeks. Watching Linenger at work is worth more than any motivational speaker.
"Off the Planet" is an admirable book. Linenger is an excellent storyteller, and writes clear prose. He describes the scientific and technical aspects in terms understandable to the general reader. But, unwittingly perhaps, he also provides a glimpse inside Jerry M. Linenger, M.D., Ph.D., and shows us the seed inside his egotism. His galaxy-sized self-regard can be annoying on the page, but from it came his ability to accomplish much. It drives him to be the best at whatever he's doing, no matter what. And as a result, for five month, it really was Jerry's world, and we were just along for the ride. After that harrowing voyage of the near-damned, he's earned his bragging rights.
on January 31, 2002
Jerry Linenger gets rapped in Dragonfly as being a total egotist, and this book does nothing to dispell the notion. He makes sure to mention in great detail the number of advanced degrees he has, his skills as an athlete, the fact that he got a shuttle flight only two years after being chosen as an astronaut, and so on. (Dragonfly makes it clear that the only reason he got a flight was that the Russians forbade rookies aboard Mir, so he had to get a quick flight before reporting for Mir training. Linenger doesn't mention this, nor his mission commander's dissatisfaction with his performance on his one flight.) There's not a whole lot about anyone else in here, and even most of the photographs are of him and him alone. The quality of the writing also makes it clear that he wrote the book himself without the aid of a professional-not that it's bad, but that it could be better. Gene Kranz did the same, but in that case it seemed to work because one got the feeling that the words were coming straight from the heart.
That being said, this remains an interesting book. Linenger is one of only five American astronauts to spend time aboard Mir and the only one (so far) to write a book it. So hearing his thoughts on the preliminary training and the experience itself remain well worth reading, whatever his faults. The most gripping part is his account of the fire onboard Mir, which was far more dangerous than NASA was originally led to believe. He also provides something of the feel of that unique experience, spending five months in cramped and alien quarters with only intermittent contact with his family.
So, in short, Linenger is not someone I'd enjoy spending much time with, I don't think, but I did enjoy reading his book. Recommended for the space enthusiast or anyone interested in a first-person account of the space program.
on January 21, 2002
I well remember the morning of 18 September 1999, my son's 10th birthday, when I took him outside in the early morning for a splendid pass directly overhead by Mir. I have never seen before or since a better pass - right over the house. I waved up and tried to kid my kid that I'd arranged the deal just for him.
I've read Foale's book, I've read Dragonfly, and I've read a few other accounts of life aboard the dilapidated Mir space station. Jerry's account is a personal one, and like any other astronaut he talks about himself and his experience, but he also gives a good picture of conditions aboard and the tensions between crew members and ground control. It must have been a very challenging environment in a spacecraft filled with garbage and outdated equipment, requiring constant attention, in a space program kept aloft by political commitments rather than any real scientific need.
It is good to read Jerry's side of the story and to see how he dealt with the inefficiencies, the corruption and the constant malfunctions of the program. We haven't heard the last of Mir just yet, and I look forward to seeing an increasingly complete account of the flights coming out over the years to come.
I'll agree that Dragonfly is the more balanced account, a real eye-opener in its own right, but Jerry Linenger's account fills a gap in the story, and I can recommend it to any space junkie wanting a fix.
on January 19, 2002
There has not been much written about NASA post-Apollo. This book tell's the author's story of going to Mir. It is an amazing story of surviving a fire in space and near collision with another ship on the station. My only complaint is that I would have liked a little more depth and detail and the author's experiences.
on December 29, 2001
My mom saw this guy interviewed on Oprah so she got me the book. Off the Planet, is about living on Mir (the Russian Space Station no longer in space). It highlights all of the problems that Mir had and yet people still managed to live on it without going crazy. This is an extraordinary book that would make even a person who is afraid to fly want to go into space. Linenger talks about the wonderful view and how many rolls of film he used. This is an amazing book and I would recommend it to anyone, even if they don't have an interest in space exploration.
on September 1, 2001
Enjoyable. Any insider's view of the space program is bound to be interesting. Although Linenger has some personal issues (as we all do), it's inspiring to read about an over-achiever.