Astronaut: Space Station Is Safe

international space station
American astronaut Ed Lu called Congressional concerns about the safety of astronauts on the International Space Station excessive, claiming the two-man U.S.-Russian crew that replaced him last week was not at risk by minor malfunctions in the station's air and water monitoring systems.

At a news conference at the Russian space training facility outside Moscow, two days after returning to Earth in a Soyuz space capsule, Lu said that concerns expressed in U.S. Senate hearings about the station malfunctions were "overblown and distracted us from the things that are really important... launch, landing and (spacewalks)."

Top NASA officials on Wednesday defended their decision to proceed with the Oct. 18 launch that carried astronauts Michael Foale of the United States and Russian Alexander Kaleri to the station for a six-month stay despite uncertainty about safety and a mild rebuke from the head of the panel that investigated the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

"This is really a long-term issue that is not a grave danger at all," Lu said.

Visiting NASA officials said Thursday that scientists were analyzing an air sample from the capsule and results would be ready in 2-3 weeks.

Lu expressed confidence that the results would uncover no problems and that the station could continue working for "quite some time" without fixing the malfunction."

Lu spent almost six months aboard the space station with Russian Yuri Malenchenko. They returned along with Spaniard Pedro Duque, who went up in the Oct. 18 launch.

Duque, who returned from his first trip to space on the U.S. space shuttle in 1998, said in Russian that Tuesday's landing on the Soyuz was "altogether different," but pointed out that he felt the crew had "full safety."

Malenchenko, who attracted wide attention by getting married while aboard the space station, said he was not ready to publicly discuss his plans now that he has returned to a new wife.

Lu said he had missed his fiancée Christine Romero while in space, but such deprivations were "a small price to pay" to get to live and work in space.

Romero clearly was smitten by the rush of her future husband's space adventure.

"I want to go Mars," she confided to The Associated Press.

By Tim Vickery