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Astronaut Would Rather Stay in Orbit


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When he's in space, John Blaha never wants to come down; he just wants to keep circling Earth forever.

The NASA astronaut will get his wish--within reason--when he takes off Monday for a four-month stay aboard the Russian space station Mir. He will replace Shannon Lucid and become the third American to live on the orbital outpost.

"I love being in space and have always felt very sad whenever we did a deorbit burn to come back," Blaha says.

"Some people have told me, 'John, you're probably going to define "forever" on this flight.' And that may be true. But I really like it there."

First, there are the spectacular views.

"I love orbit mechanics and stars and stuff like that," says Blaha, 54, a retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions in Vietnam and later became a test pilot.

Second, for some strange reason, Blaha feels better in space than he does on Earth. "I have lived all my life with sort of a clogged sinus area and I don't have that there," he explains.

What does his wife of 30 years, Brenda, think about his desire to stay in space forever?

"She hears that. I don't know what she thinks about it," Blaha says. "But we have a very good relationship. If I could take her with me, I'd take her with me. She's the one person I would take."

Blaha volunteered for the Mir job after he returned from his fourth space shuttle flight in late 1993. He'd flown twice as a shuttle pilot and twice as a shuttle commander and wanted to get more involved in space station operations.

With the international space station upcoming, Blaha figured that he might as well learn what he could from Mir.

Blaha spent 1 1/2 years at the Russian cosmonaut training center outside Moscow, along with his wife and their Chihuahua, Duchess. The Blahas have three grown children, one grandchild and another grandchild on the way.

An engineer by training, Blaha is the only shuttle pilot among the seven Americans who have lived or will live on Mir. (Most are scientists or doctors.) He will serve as the backup flight engineer and have more station duties than his predecessors, in addition to his scientific work.

To help pass the time, Blaha is taking up some 50 films and videotaped sports eventsand, perhaps most important, tapes of Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl victories.

Blaha should be back on Earth by January's end--maybe, just maybe, in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

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