CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Earth to astronaut Jerry Linenger: Your wife's car won't work. The nursery for the new baby has to be set up. And your 18-month-old son needs his daddy.
Linenger is scheduled to return to Earth aboard shuttle Atlantis on Saturday morning after four months on Russia's space station Mir. He will be reunited with his wife, Kathryn, who is eight months' pregnant, and his son, John.
"I'm going to be busy. I just got an update today that her car broke down yesterday so I've got another problem," Linenger said, laughing, from Atlantis on Friday. "I'm used to repairing things. I should do all right."
He said the reunion with his wife and son will be "pure elation."
During Linenger's difficult and sometimes dangerous mission, he repaired broken equipment on Mir and cleaned up after a harrowing fire.
The shuttle picked him up last weekend and delivered another astronaut to take his place on Mir. The station also got a new oxygen generator, fresh canisters to purge carbon dioxide from the air, and crucial repair gear.
Only one American has spent more time in space - Shannon Lucid, whose 188-day Mir mission ended last fall.
Linenger, 42, a doctor and triathlete, said he wants to try to walk off the shuttle as Lucid did, even if he has to crawl part way. He wants to see if his rigorous exercise aboard Mir paid off - muscles and bones deteriorate in weightlessness - and whether an astronaut could get out quickly in an emergency landing.
"Beyond that, it's just been a personal goal," he explained. "To keep running on the treadmill two hours a day takes a lot of determination, and to have a goal to walk off the shuttle gave me something to shoot for."
Dr. Roger Billica, chief of medical operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said that it is up to Linenger as to how he exits Atlantis but that doctors and a stretcher will be on hand just in case. Perhaps the biggest hazard for returning astronauts is falling and breaking a bone.
NASA would prefer that Linenger be carried off to help slow his body's transition to gravity and make it easier for the medical researchers who will examine him for the effects of spaceflight.
Included will be tests for any lingering symptoms from his exposure to antifreeze, which last month leaked from Mir's cooling system.
After two to three days of rest and constant medical supervision, Linenger will begin two to three weeks of intense rehabilitation, starting with water aerobics and building up to stationary bike workouts.
He should be back to normal, more or less, within a month.
Mrs. Linenger is due to give birth to their second child on June 27.