Originally created 01/17/97

Lost in space



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - In space, you can't just roll down the window and toss stuff out. Which is why Russia's 11-year-old Mir space station has come to resemble the cluttered dashboard of an old Dodge Dart.

After a four-month stay aboard Mir, U.S. astronaut John Blaha couldn't find a small, broken fan that he had removed from a refrigerator. He listed it as lost in space when he moved his belongings into the docked space shuttle Atlantis on Thursday.

"I have no idea where I let go of it," Blaha sheepishly told Mission Control. "My experience being on this Mir for four months is we could spend hundreds of hours and find nothing."

Engineers wanted Blaha to bring the fan from the Russian space station when he returns to Earth next week so they can figure out why it broke.

This isn't the first time a NASA astronaut has left something behind in space. The late astronaut Manley "Sonny" Carter misplaced his watch aboard Discovery in 1989. It popped up five months later on Discovery's next flight - weightlessness caused it to float out from wherever it was.

On Mir, though, lost-and-found is commonplace.

Until Atlantis began ferrying crews and cargo to Mir in 1995, the Russians had no way of returning unwanted items; the Soyuz capsules were simply too small. As a result, 11 years' worth of stuff is crammed into the 298,189-pound station, made up of six modules.

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, Blaha's replacement, said it's "like going up in an attic and finding interesting things from the past."

The lost fan is among 209 items that the nine astronauts and cosmonauts are supposed to move back and forth between the linked spacecraft. As of Thursday, 163 items, mostly supplies and science experiments, had been transferred. All this must be completed by the time the hatches are shut for Sunday night's undocking by Atlantis.

Also Thursday, shuttle astronaut John Grunsfeld put in a surprise call to Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of the National Public Radio call-in show "Car Talk."

Grunsfeld said he needed help with his vehicle: "The odometer on this thing reads about 60 million miles."

It turns out Grunsfeld took his green Sunbeam Alpine to the brothers' Boston garage in 1977 when he was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It also turns out he still owes $5. The brothers, cackling, said they would send him a bill.