Think Again: Reach deeper for engineering inspiration

You don’t need to be faced with death in space to reach deeper, do more for humanity, inspire others, and be thankful for every moment. 7 lessons follow.


Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaWhat inspires you? With an oxygen canister spewing flame and melting metal like a blowtorch, Dr. Jerry Linenger was seconds away from death on the Russian Space Station Mir. You don’t need to be faced with death in space to reach deeper, do more for each other, inspire others, and be thankful for every moment, according to advice Linenger shared at RSTechEd 2011 in Orlando last month. It’s paraphrased below, with some related stories.

Dr. Jerry Linenger, NASA, retired. Photo by Mark T. Hoske, CFE MediaFor a year and a half, I studied Russian every morning and rocket science in Russian every afternoon.

1. Work hard to know your stuff. The importance of individual confidence and preparation to any team is critical.

After a long Russian winter, I kissed my young son, John, and my pregnant-again wife good-bye. I hoped to return two weeks before the birth of my second child.

2. What have you done with the last year of your life? Are you still on an exponential learning curve as are young children?

Mir, then 18 years old, had daily breakdowns due to lack of maintenance and budgetary challenges.

Despite emergencies, I had lifetimes of prepared experiments to do, and I marked them off the chart (more than 100 in all).

3. In darkness, seek people you trust.

After another alarm, I heard Vasily [Tsibliev, Mir-23 Commander] yelling: “Fire!” An oxygen canister was spewing smoke and more than 3 feet of flame, like a blowtorch. It was spurting what looked like hundreds of balls of wax, actually molten metal. We knew if it tipped, the fire would breach the hull. My first respirator didn’t work.

Lack of oxygen was closing darkness around me. I yelled out good-bye to my wife, Kathryn, good-bye to my son, John, and to our baby-to-be. What a strange place to die, I thought.

I was filled with the pain of regret, realizing I had left nothing behind for my son. I should have written something.

As I was losing consciousness, my fingers ran over a second respirator. It worked. After Vasily emptied the fourth fire extinguisher, the oxygen fuel source ran out, and we had to clear the air. An hour and 45 minutes later portable canisters emptied; the filters had worked. Sleep came quickly.

4. When you go to bed, no matter how big your challenges, leave them behind. Learn from your experiences and press on.

5. Human adaptability is immeasurable. People can change anything if they set their minds to it.

6. You don’t have to blast into space to know what counts. Put your arms around the people you love.

7. We always can do things as if we’re different people, even without spending 5 months in space. Learn from your experiences.

I believe him.

- Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


See more inspirational stories, advice on each point and others, along with photos of Linenger and his Mir experiences at Engineering inspiration: NASA’s Linenger challenges us to reach deeper, do more for each other


Some of 72 Linenger letters to his son from Mir:

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