The three astronauts currently living aboard theInternational Space Station are more than mere space explorers. They?re also dedicatedfathers working hard to keep in touch with their families while on the ultimatework trip 200 miles above planet Earth.
Expedition 19 commander GennadyPadalka, a Russian cosmonaut, and flight engineers Michael Barratt of NASAand Koichi Wakata of Japan have all left important people back on Earth.
Barratt, a first-time spaceflyer, spoketo his wife and each of his five children on March 28, shortlyafter arriving at the orbiting laboratory, which will be his home for aboutsix months.
"Happy anniversary, and thanks for letting me do allthis," he told his wife Michelle, since the occasion happened to be theirwedding anniversary. "It was an awfully fun ride. I know we're going tomiss you all but it's going to be a terrific 200 days up here."
Barratt's daughter Meeta told her father she was reallyproud of him, and then admonished him, "Don't break anything!"
"I'll try not to," he responded with a laugh.
Family at heart
Astronauts have said that theseparation from their families and friends during long space missions, andduring the even longer training periods on Earth, is one of the hardest partsof their jobs.
Barratt told reporters thattalking to his family from space was a moving experience.
"I have two daughtersand three sons to go with them and it was just wonderful to hear their voicesup here," he said. "I think that they all sweated along with me duringthese years of training, and I think they?ve all had a pretty good idea of whatit all meant to me before I launched. But seeing the launch actually, andseeing me come through the docking hatch and meeting people that they also knowup here ? we?ve all gotten to know each other and are great friends ? I thinkit was incredibly meaningful for both of us. "
Aboard the space station,astronauts have an Internet Protocol phone to call their families whenever theyhave time, and can also communicate through video links and e-mail.
Padalka, a veteran spaceflyer, hasthree daughters ? Yulia, Ekaterina and Sonya ? with wife Irina.
After arriving for his second tour of duty on the ISS,Padalka spoke to one of his girls. "I already miss you. I love you, mysweet little girl," he said in Russian.
"Say hi to all the crewmembers," his daughterresponded, according to a translator. "Hugs and kisses, Dad."
Wakata, who is serving as his nation's first long-durationastronaut, has one son, age 10, with his wife Stefanie.
Astronauts in the past have occasionally had to missimportant family events going on back home.
In 2004, NASA astronaut Michael Fincke was orbiting the Earthas an Expedition 9 flight engineer when his second child, daughter Tarali, wasborn. He spoke to his wife by telephone during the delivery, but had to waituntil he landed four months later to meet his daughter for the first time.
Fincke recently completed his second tour of duty on thespace station as Expedition 18's commander, and landedsafely in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Wednesday.
In December 2007, NASA astronaut Daniel Tani's 90-year-old motherdied in an auto accident while he was completing a long-duration stay onthe space station. The astronaut had to grieve from more than 200 miles away inorbit, until he came back to Earth about two months later.
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