Week 3 – Laboratory in Space!

Week 3 ALREADY!  Time is flying.  It seems like yesterday we arrived.  Hopefully by the time you read this, Curiosity has landed on Mars!!!  We are getting up a little early tomorrow to hear the results.  I wonder if she has had as nice a view of the red planet as we are having of our planet?  Tune into NASA TV to see how the landing goes!  Our fingers are crossed for this new technology!!!  Go Curiosity!

Life has been fast and furious this past week.  We had a little break from “dynamic” operations so we jumped into the science this week.  It has been fun and filled with all sorts of stuff.  We are by no means expects in all the science that we do up here – luckily there are many people on the ground ready to support us when we are doing the experiments.  Experts on the science and systems which perform the science are located all over the world.  They get “patched” into our communications loops so at times we get to talk to them WHILE we are performing the tasks.  We usually have a video camera set up over our shoulder so they can “watch” we are doing and how the experiment is going.  We have experiments that need our eyes on them to watch for changes and report.  Remember stuff up here acts differently than it would on earth.  We all think we know what will happen, but the beauty of science is that sometimes we get surprised, especially when this is really the only place to do this type of stuff.

Geo Quiz:
This week we have two, day time and night time.  These  should be pretty obvious…the first one is near and dear to my heart and Dina’s heart.

I’m just learning how to take night time shots, so this one is wide enough to be sort of obvious.  Hint, it is looking south.

Congratulations to Chris Gerty for being the first to submit an answer, and I will say a complete answer!  And thanks for all the submissions.  Many folks were right when they said the great Salt Lake.  Pretty interesting place.  Chris provided this info below about its weird color:

Info about the redness of Salt Lake (beta-carotene, wow!):
The planktonic algae are dominated by a variety of pennate diatoms in early spring and late autumn when they are apt to reach bloom proportions in numbers. In summer and occasionally in winter two species of Dunaliella (green algae) dominate. In the less saline south arm of the lake, Dunaliella viridis dominates, imparting a green cast to the water, whereas in the more saline north arm of the lake, Dunaliella salina dominates and this species produces beta-carotene in such large quantity that the water Qbecomes quite red in color. However, even the north arm is not saline enough for this species to reach maximum populations. This they do in the solar evaporation ponds of various companies that extract salts from the lake by concentrating brines. You may have noticed the brilliant red color of the solar evaporation ponds of GSL-Minerals & Chemicals as you fly over the lake in summer. Even the entire north arm develops a reddish color in summer due to this alga. Contributing somewhat to the red color of the north arm is the presence of Halobacterium, a bacterial species that accumulates a rhodopsin-type of pigment.
Source: http://faculty.weber.edu/sharley/aift/GSL-Life.htm

Things we did this week:
Again, lots of fun and interesting science with one quick break for the arrival of 48 Progress – that was the one that arrived in a “fast way.”  That means even fresher fruit and care packages for us, as well as lots of supplies (including our EVA cables…more on that in a later email!)

First of all Pro K.  This is a controlled diet experiment.  It is interesting when you can’t choose for yourself…immediately you start feeling deprived.  I think this is why diets don’t seem to work in the end.  You just can’t wait to get off it and then go crazy!  At least that is my personality.  The idea here is to see if a high animal protein diet contributes to bone loss.  This is not as important on the ground as it is here in space. Living in space immediately starts to change the body, and one of the unfortunate side effects is bone density loss because we don’t need a skeletal structure to hold us up.  Immediately the body starts to redistribute calcium.  That is why we do weight baring exercises up here – to help prevent it.  Well, an additional theory is that the acid created in breaking down animal protein also leaches calcium out of the bones as it is used as a neutralizing agent for the acid.  So, we are testing out a high animal protein diet versus a low animal protein diet.  Associated with the menu is how to test it.  Of course there is sampling after 4 days of these diets – that means 24 hours continuous of taking urine samples

(see sampling above – not so easy in space – stuff seems to float…ughhh) and then a blood draw (I might be a vampire, I don’t mind doing this to myself!?!?  Weird, I know, it is just fascinating to draw blood!)  after the last day.  We freeze all that in the Melfi

– see freezer ops above.

More reaction testing – seems like we do this a lot.  Nothing has hit me on the head, so my reaction times seem pretty good to me.  Seems like I am little faster in the evening than the morning.  One morning I put moisturizer on my toothbrush instead of toothpaste…I am not really a morning person in space…

Spider feeding!!!  Cleopatra and Nefertiti are our two spiders.  Cleopatra, the zebra spider seems to be either very clever or very shy.  She has disappeared.  She was the first one I met and was pretty active when I first saw her.  She is sort of small, like the size of the holes where the fruit flies live…so, we think she was maybe really hungry and went into one of the holes.  If so, she was having a buffet in there.  There are cameras on them in the habitat so the ground can watch and they saw evidence that there was webbing in one of the fruit fly holes.  My only worry about her is that she will eat too much, grow a lot and get stuck in there…the life of a spider-naut!!!

Nefertiti on the other hand is too big.  She is sort of scary in fact

– see her picture above.  I am so glad I am not a fruit fly.  I opened up the habitat and actually saw her running around at full speed looking for something to eat.  I was difficult to even get a steady picture.  Then a fruit fly came out, she stopped, she stalked and then she pounced.  It was amazing to see with my own two eyes.  Apparently they inject some acidic fluid in the fly body which liquefies the insides and then she sucks everything out of the fly.  The only thing left is the carcass…and I saw many carcass-es floating around in her twisted web.  Note her 4 eyes and the fruit fly in her mouth!  I was told she has excellent vision.  Again, I am so happy to not be a fly – reminded me of that futuristic movie Starship Troopers (I think that is the name) – Yikes!

More Cardio-vascular testing.  The ultrasound and our ground teams who remotely guide us are getting a workout.  Last week Joe and I did cardiac imaging and this week Aki was the victim.  We found it is easier to scan yourself and have an operator run the machine – again sort of fun to see what is inside

…see It’s a boy! Above.

BCAT  – Colloid formation in space.  There are many different types of samples that potentially form colloids differently here than on earth.  We get them ready, place them somewhere on the ISS in a certain orientation, let them sit for a while and then photo document them.  This is pretty difficult photography with micro lenses to try to take a picture of the potential crystals.  The depth of field is small with crystals, making it hard for the camera to “see” them.  It is like trying to take pictures of a prism.  I need more photography work on this small scale!  Very interesting though how they crystals vary from sample to sample.

ACE – Working with a high powered microscope to look at samples here in space.  I was essentially a technician.  We mix samples with a magnet, install samples that we have here, change out lenses for the microscope and get it all ready for the ground teams to run sessions to look at and analyze the samples.  Pretty meticulous work, but fun to see how we can work together with the ground teams.

Installed a jumper to get ready for one of the external payloads on the Japanese Exposed Platform.  This week the “boys” will robotically install the payloads from the External Pallet, after the ground teams extract the pallet from the HTV.  I ran some cabling to get the data from the experiment.

Lots of transfer of items from the HTV to ISS.  We are ready to load her up with trash and clean out the station.   I wouldn’t say I am a hoarder at home, but I don’t like to throw things away.  Living on ISS is turning me around – I love throwing things away here!  We are ready and finding trash and things we don’t need.  The ISS is 12 years old now and has been accumulating lots of stuff.  It is time to clean house.  We have HTV and the European module ATV to do that.  They are both big, so one of my goals is to really clean this ISS up.  The ground teams need to know where all the trash goes and approximately how heavy the stuff is.  Remember these vehicles have to fly under control for while to enter the atmosphere  precisely to burn up the trash.  We can’t just put stuff anywhere in the vehicle because the control algorithms need to know the center of mass to control the trajectory.  So, the process for loading a vehicle is meticulous.  That is one of the reasons the return of 47P was also interesting.  The Russians loaded that up with trash –precisely  – for the navigations systems to work accurately for it to be able to come back and dock to the ISS.  Lots of work by many people on the ground!!!  Thank you!

Interview with Mindy Todd (NPR, Cape and the Islands) and Dr. Sanjay Gupta (CNN).  Getting ready for the Falmouth Road Race next weekend.  And then, the triathlon with Sanjay in September.  Watch out Sanjay – I’m getting stronger!

Saturday cleaning – not only wiping up the spots and dusting, but also vacuuming….that is sort of fun in space

– see Nooks and crannies above.  Joe looks like a natural!

Finally – started charging batteries and putting some of the “final touches” on our space suits.    By that I mean our mission patches and our flags and getting our helmets with valsava device installed.  EVA is scheduled for us 30 August.  The Russians have one on the 20th.  We have a lot more work to do to get the airlock and the suits ready – that will be coming up very soon!!!

Another experiment, Treadmill Kinematics was run this week.  This is to see the difference with running in space and running on the ground.  We sort of assume that it is the same when the folks on the ground have us do exercise up here.  But in fact, with the harness and microgravity, we aren’t even sure we are working the correct parts for bone density  and muscle mass deficits. By videotaping ourselves at different speeds, with dots on ourselves, the folks on the ground can figure out the differences.  I saw a similar thing on training Olympic swimmers when they push off the wall – you’ve seen the dolphin kick thing they do now.  Folks analyze the position of the ankle, knee and hip to record and see the motion and see what the result is – speed in that case.  Maybe proper position in our case.

See fast running above.

I am into SPRINT now.  So the interval running workouts are getting intense.  Weight lifting workouts have been difficult with 12 repetitions per exercise.  This week we decrease the reps and increase the weight….should be fun?!?!?!?

After all that working out, and finally not having to eat “what I am told to eat”, it was time to really EAT!  Friday, after all of us were off the “diet” we opened some of our Bonus containers and had a smorgasbord while watching the Olympics together.  We had chips (corn tortillas broken in pieces) with bean dip from Joe, nacho cheese spread from me, fish in miso sauce from Aki.  Gennady, Yuri and Sergei joined in and we had fun all eating together and cheering for our teams.

I felt like continuing the Mexican theme and had beef fajita’s the next day on a flour tortilla with spicy corn.

See starving above.  Notice our “table” in the background.   Really just consists of a place to Velcro your food, stick it down with duct tape, and a place for huggies for cleaning our silverware.  We got some grapefruits and apples from 48P which arrived in the middle of the week.  Crunchy and REAL!

General thoughts and questions:
We have been flying along the line between night and day for a couple days now.  That line is called the Terminator.  It is where we see the darkness of night coming across the earth.

See picture above.  I took this picture in the middle of the week when we could see it pretty good.  Now we are flying even closer to it which does funny things.  It lights up the ISS while the ground is still dark.  This may be allowing for lots of sightings of the ISS, not sure about that, but it is my hunch.  It is making taking pictures for us pretty difficult.  I will show graphically what is happening in the next email since we will almost lose all of our night very soon (time of the year).  Parts of the ISS will be illuminated for an entire 24 hour period – our orbit and the earth tilt.  The left side of our station will always be in the sun.

I was asked about showering and shaving.  No showers, just a sponge bath.  We just ran out of wash cloths and now have new towels, stored like hockey pucks until you get them wet.  Should be interesting to see how these work…more to follow.  I see that the boys shave all the time –maybe except weekends.  I shave once a week.  If the razor is wet, the stuff sticks to it, and then I just wipe it off with a tissue and throw it away.  Not really sure why I am doing this, just seems like the thing to do since we do it on earth…yes we do have deodorant and shampoo up here too.  Doesn’t seem like I need moisturizer that often.  In fact, I don’t like that it makes my hands slippery when I have to use them to work on cables, etc.  Seems like we need chapstick every now and then – it is a lot less humid here than Houston.

Another question was about free time.  Yes, we do have some free time on the weekends.  Saturday morning we clean the station.  Both Saturday and Sunday we still need to work out.  But those are really our only commitments.  Sometimes we do get ahead tasks, or science.  But the free time allows us to talk to friends and family at home – video conference.  We can’t do this all together, so there is separate times allotted for each of us –luckily the US, Russia and Japan are different time zones so that helps deconflict time slots.  This time also allows us to get some “window time”.  I spent a good portion of Saturday evening in the Russian segment with the Ruskie boys learning how to take night photos.  They are really good.  We had a fun time drinking tea in between night photo sessions.  And today, I did a little in house filming for India Independence Day (15 August), and even took a little nap – sort of like weekends on earth!

One last very important thing:

Happy Birthday Dina,  Colleen, Chris W.,  and John!!!!  Quite the bday week and I hope it was a good one for all of you!

Thanks again for tuning in!

Smiles from space, s


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