CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- As the oxygen canister spewed flames and smoke filled the Mir space station, astronaut Jerry Linenger realized he might die. So he said silent goodbyes to his pregnant wife and son.
Then regret hit him. He hadn't written to his boy about his hopes -- ''or even a simple thing like 'I love you.'''
Once the fire was out, Linenger's e-mails to his 1-year-old son became more heartfelt. Three years and two more sons later, Linenger is still writing about his Mir experience. Only this time, his frank account is ''Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir,'' a book released by McGraw-Hill in February.
The first copies, inscribed to John, Jeff and Henry, are already set aside. ''And I'm satisfied with three copies sold,'' insists Linenger, laughing. ''Hopefully, they'll be proud of what their dad did. That was my motivation.''
What dad did was battle the worst fire in space and help keep the Russian station going in 1997 despite electrical blackouts, insufferable heat, leaking antifreeze fumes and rising carbon-dioxide levels.
He was the fourth of seven Americans to live on Mir, the third of the bunch to quit NASA, and the first -- and only one so far -- to write a book.
The 45-year-old retired Navy doctor began writing in early 1998, soon after leaving NASA. It took him one year to write and another to sharpen it with editors' help.
Linenger wrote without notes, relying almost entirely on the images and sensations seared into his mind during his 132-day Mir mission. He included everything, no matter how controversial.
''I wrote as honestly as I could,'' he says. ''It's incredible drama -- and I don't apologize for that.''
More importantly, Linenger wrote without a co-author. He did not want to be misquoted or misrepresented and so chose to go it alone, even though his writing experience was limited.
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