Every cycle Michael wakes up early, squeeze coffee from a tube, and reads the newspaper hoping to find out the names of the two Russian astronauts he's trapped in space with. The newspaper is weightless but he has learned how to keep the pages still. The paper hangs before him, rectangular wings oscillating gently. He reads: The American and the two Russians aboard Russia's stricken Mir space station prepared Thursday for a bleak couple of weeks awaiting a relief ship to bring vital supplies needed for the repair of their damaged craft. Yes, but what Russians? Who? What are their names? Once the newspaper missed the space station and went spinning out of sight until it was another white dot along the plane of the ecliptic. He had to radio earth for another one. From far off he could see it, a speck tumbling toward them. The second time it rolled end over end right into the airlock like it always does. Does NASA rocket the news up here, or is there a paperboy who can throw a rolled paper at 13 miles a second and achieve escape velocity and with stunning accuracy? Michael has nothing here, and needs the news, worse than he ever did back on earth. Way worse. Deprived of real sunlight (instead only the harsh and slightly toxic blaze of radiation up here), real air (with smells), and real food (fresh vegetables); even a newspaper seems erotic. He gets to read about himself and figure out who the hell he is and what he's doing in space. In a failed metal ecosystem lost in space along a calculable arc. Technical malfunctions forming a ring above the equator, a rain of metal across three continents. Those three grimy sweaty men, a camping trip in space in a malfunctioning tin can. Sharing the last toothbrush. Grudgingly. Those brave astronauts labor away in the cramped tedium. One of the Russians uses a tool to repair the damage. The tool is about the same size and mass as a piece of metal used to club a Detroit teenager to death in Flint Michigan, Michael thinks, but of course this piece of metal cost hundreds of thousands. Police say the victims simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time as was the unmanned cargo craft in the collision Wednesday. The space station lost half its power supply when the airtight hull of the Spektr science module was ruptured. It made a horrible noise and they stared at each other in helpless rage. They face one of the most difficult crises in space since Apollo 13 came close to disaster in 1970. The feebleness of the shell that surrounds them is apparent. The flickering fluorescents, the whining indicators. Michael has a secret wish that the U.S. would dismantle its military and divert all the funding to providing food and healthcare to the hungry, sick. Now he would even like to see the space program suspended until it is determined how the exploration of space can reduce suffering on earth. Earth. The word seems really funny to him now, saying it from the outside. How badly the American Michael Foale wants to be at home on Earth with Julio. He has heard that the Federal Housing Administration will cut its mortgage insurance premiums by 25 basis points to 1.5 percent for first time homebuyers in the largest U.S. cities. This could mean good news for he and Julio, if he survives. Unfortunately, Russian Space Agency chief Yuri Koptev said the cosmonauts are in no immediate danger and there are no plans to evacuate them after the worst accident in Mir's 11-year history, that bastard. But the crew will return to Earth in its Soyuz escape craft if the air pressure falls below about three-quarters of the current norm. He can only hope. Of course, it is hard to breathe back in L. A. too, but the Russians don't need to know that. He thinks about Julio's jogging mask as he reads about European leaders attacking the United States for not doing enough to combat global warming. These Russians are driving him crazy, of course. They make jokes about American drill sergeants harassing female recruits. They have some kind of thing about American women that he doesn't get. And when Pitts admitted to being a spy for Russians, their jokes grew intolerable. One of them once heard about a rave in Prague, and he thinks all of America is like Disneyland on Ecstasy. How he would rather be with Julio & the other 499,999 at the 27th annual Pride parade, or to be among the 2500 at Betty Shabazz's funeral. Everyday, when he retrieves the paper from space, he rolls off the rubber band, and snaps it at one of the Russians. In zero G, those things can sting and make you spin. Of course, if you are not yourself braced when you snap it, you too will tumble. NASA says Russian space authorities are considering spacewalks to restore some power to the stricken Mir space station. Perhaps they can rig a generator to a treadmill, Michael doesn't understand that setnece at all. But NASA official Frank Culbertson says any repair would have to wait until next month and would be "very difficult." Under the plan being discussed, cosmonauts in space suits would run cables from the module's electricity-generating solar arrays to the space station's other compartments. A dangerous and cumbersome procedure. They were told that they looked well and confident Sunday in their first television link with Earth since their accident in orbit. During the nine-minute appearance, the crew took the camera around Mir to show some of the key points for repair work needed to restore the power supply. The Russians, of course, hogged the camera. This was actually the only time the crew spoke to one another all week. After the accident, accusations flew, and their regular card games stopped. Michael now plays a game of solitaire, floating the cards in air. Officials at the U.S. space agency NASA said that a stabilization system was now close to reactivation and life was slowly improving on Mir. But the crew on Mir still faces risky repair work this week. Thumps and snowflakes on Mir have caused concern about the forthcoming internal spacewalk. Dangers include getting snagged, punctured. Michael had a dream that there was something alive in the cargo hold. He'll retire comfortably if he lives. As will Julio. But he can feel his frustration seethe and rise like 800,000 gallons of hog manure in an overflowing waste lagoon. Glad nobody on Earth knows what he is really like.

Newspoetry at Spineless Books