Baikonur – Day 11

Check out these photos
The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft is rolled out by train on its way to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011.  The launch of the Soyuz spacecraft with Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Russia, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers is scheduled for 7:16 p.m. local time on Wednesday, December 21.  Photo Credit (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

The days are going by quicker now…so I am getting behind.  So, I am actually writing about yesterday and I promised myself I will finish today before I go to sleep today.  Well, yesterday that promise probably couldn’t have happened anyway – one funny led to another and I think I was up pretty late.  I know I was up pretty late, because 7am came mighty early today.  I will get to that later…

I am also going to apologize to my family for this note – there is a bit more space specific stuff in here, which may not make a lot of sense.  But these are notes for me, and some future commanders, that might be good to know.  I am just trying to capture the experience.  Sorry if it gets sort of boring.

So yesterday started out pretty calm.  I think we had just a couple classes on the list, and they were pretty cool classes indeed.  The SAR folks were here – again, old friends I have worked with before when I was the deputy.   These are the guys who pick you up after you land and the ones who coordinate all the helo’s and airplanes along the initial flight path, just in case there is a problem and you have to land right away.  They brought in all the ballistic charts and showed us the flight path, what airplanes and helos would be where and how they coordinate.  I watched one launch from the SAR facilities before.  They are up in a little tower with comm along the flight path for the different SAR assets.  Pretty cool.

There were more folks from Energia as well, along with Sasha Kalerie.  They talked a bit more about the rendezvous profile.  They showed us the predicted, projected flight path the vehicle would take for the rendezvous.  Lots of charts and calculations showing the burn sequence, what types of burns, how long, which engines, etc for the rendezvous that the computer was going to do/calculate.  We were shown all the projected numbers for comm sessions, day/night cycles, planned time of approach start (5 minutes after sunset).  We didn’t get a copy of all those charts, but the prime crew did.  I think it is potentially something I would put in my orbital flight book to check out before rendezvous.  So, my impression is that they wait until as close as possible, so the ISS is in a stable-ish configuration before they make all these calculations and give you an idea of what the profile is going to look like.  Both discussions were really interesting and very informative.

The middle of the day was sort of spent tracking down little items.  Maybe I make more of a mess than I clean up – but just trying to help Don in any way possible.  There was a question about a semi-critical piece of hardware that is to fly on Soyuz.  No one had laid eyes on it yet.  Don knew that it was delivered to the Moscow with Bob Behnken, but not sure exactly where it was at this point.  After emailing our main POC here in Russia, Joel, I was told it was in Baikonur and being handed over to the Russians just today.  It is a tester for circuit cards which are going to be replaced in our main computers on the ISS – it is a big deal that we have the correct cards, and this oscilloscope tester will help verify that we have spares onboard.   The software update is needed to update the computers so they can account for the new commercial vehicles and other stuff, in the very near future.  Don will be using this equipment pretty shortly after he arrives.

We all chatted a lot during the day – I found out that Tricia Mack and Chris Guiletti are here and working on packing the next Progress so they were exactly in the right place to check out and ask the right questions.  Tricia and I chatted on the phone and she got right on it with her counterparts.  Her and Chris sent us pictures of how the equipment was packed with their s/n and p/n.  Sasha and I double checked it on the manifest and found that the parts are to be packed on the Divan.  Stuff can’t go into the vehicle now since it is on  it’s side for assembly to the rocket, so the packing will happen after it get erected tomorrow.   Sasha, Yuri and Dima will deliver the flight books and the rest of the stuff tomorrow to be loaded into the vehicle, so Sasha promised me he would check out if the tester was indeed onboard.  I am hoping this sort of 2 pronged approach of checking and rechecking will ensure the darned thing is loaded on the Soyuz.

Speaking of loading things, this was the perfect day to see exactly what one can and cannot bring onboard.  There is an allotment of 1.5 kg of stuff we can carry.  Then there is “worn on” stuff, like watches, glasses, flashlights that can be literally worn on by you.  Then there is other flat-ish “stuff” that can be packed.  Then there is a medical kit.  Then there is a small medical kit….As you can see, the lines between all this “stuff” can get a little blurry.  And, there are rules about what you can and can’t take.  For example, hooks on fish hooks had to be cut off – nothing too sharp.  There seems to be always a new rule, and that is probably because people all bring different things with them.  But the process isn’t very straight forward and requires a bit of negotiating – well maybe I should say haggling.  That might be a better description…So, I tried to spend a little time with our Russian Soyuz instructors, since they are the ones that are essentially responsible for all this.  By dinner time, they needed all the flight data file back from the crewmembers so they could arrange it for delivery the next morning.  Lots of work for them actually.

After lunch, around 4pm, I heard and saw the bus pulling into the Baikonur hotel across the street.  It is in the background of the flag pictures.  So, we knew all the families and guests had arrived.  The first thing for them is to put their bags down and come on over.  Both Don and Andre got to spend some time with their families here today.  Pretty cool!  Andre’s kids are young so they could only see him behind the glass, but they apparently loved it.  They got to talk to him using a microphone, so they were singing, laughing and just having a good time with Dad behind the glass.  Kids always seem to find the glass half full side of things – I love that.

In the meantime, I met my lifting “student”, Sasha in the gym.  We had a badminton warm up since Kirill – the Russian flight surgeon who is pretty cool (however some others think he is too serious, but since I sit next to him at meals I have realized that he likes to work out, eat well and is sort of our keeper/alarm clock/ schedule reader, etc), was using the bar.  Today I taught Sasha how to do single leg squats, standing rows, and abdominal workouts.  I was happy to see the Russian trainer and Kirill still in the gym – while we were doing this.  Again, I can’t hurt this guy – he is the main guy who will be talking to the crew as they take off and when they are on orbit during critical events with the Soyuz.  All went well – although Kirill was goading us on to do 4 sets of single leg squats – I can feel it took a toll on my butt, not sure how Sasha’s is doing?!?!?!

After that time for dinner and some relaxing.  There is the opportunity to see spouses at night – but it was a long day for the guests, so Don and Mickey decided sleeping might be a better option (tomorrow is an early start). The night before folks had watched a movie called “Get him to the Greek.”  I had seen it.  Don watched about half and fell asleep.  So we decided to go watch it.  Bakes has a DVD player in his room so we watched there – Bakes was off having pizza with the families downtown Baikonur.  We watched the movie – it is crude, but pretty funny.  Not sure I would recommend it – but a good laugh.  After chatting for a while – time to go to bed.

Well, I thought I was going to bed, but instead, ended up really checking out all the Flight Data File.  Yuri and Sasha were packing it all up.  Got to see how all the “stuff” is loaded into the books.  How the pencils are connected to the books.  Which books go in the FDF container, which go in the BO.  They had all the “stuff” spread out in their room – and by the time I left – well after midnight  – it was neatly packed  up and ready to go to the Soyuz.  I strongly recommend getting to know these guys well enough (for many reasons) to feel comfortable watching what they do.  It has a direct impact on what we get, where we find it, when we get stuff.  Good folks.

That was enough for one day for sure…


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