Week 9 – turning over a new leaf…change is good

Hi Everyone!

Well it is starting to be fall in the northern hemisphere.  It is easy to see that from up here – the many agricultural fields which were bright green 2 months ago are all starting to become brown!  We had a Net Meeting with our friends in Star City the other day and Alla’s son Vasya had a large fall leaf to show us.  You can’t stop time.  It is funny, these things, the natural changes on earth, the seasons, the real day night, the wind then calm, those are the things that make life on earth special.  We don’t have them up here so when we hear about those natural occurring changes, then I miss our planet!

I’m not saying we don’t have changes up here too, because lately it really seems like we are having a lot!  If you remember when we chatted last week, we had 5 external vehicles connected to us – 2 Soyuz’s, 1 Progress, 1 ATV and 1 HTV.  Well, in the course of one week, we lost 2 – 1 HTV and 1 Soyuz.  HTV left us on Wednesday after we prepared the hatches, installed the gold protective covering,

HTV dancers

and then installed the latching mechanism motors.  The ground team “grappled” her with the robotic arm, they ran the unbolting sequence with Joe – 16 bolts, let go of the latches and moved the HTV away to a position for Joe and Aki to take over.  Then Joe and Aki opened the snares in the end of the robotic arm – which were holding the HTV – and let her go free.  Well, she hovered there for a little while, then seemed to want to come back to us – moved ever so slightly toward the ISS instead of drifting away.  We release her in a slightly lower orbit than us – which means she should be going faster according to orbital mechanic, which means she should have been moving away, and forward of us.  Instead she was drifting back toward us a little.  Well, the software in the system detected this as a “safety net/corridor violation” and sent an ABORT command.  As a result, she sped away from us at warp speed!  It was seriously like a Star Wars film.  She flew away so fast that we had a hard time tracking her on the camera.  Her name was Kounotori, meaning stork – so maybe she is like one of those heavy birds that take a while to get going, and then flies away at lightening speed. After some other issues with her GPS systems, she finally had a normal deorbit and entry into the atmosphere on Thursday!  Wheeew and congratulations to our Japanese compadres on a great mission for Kounotori!

The second big change was the departure of the Soyuz 30S vehicle and her contents, Gennady, Sergei and Joe!  We just locked them in their Soyuz.  It is 8:30pm GMT.  They will actually undock in 3 hours.  So I will keep updating this part of the email as each step occurs.  We stay up until they land.  Hopefully we will get streaming video and see the landing!!!!
Well it is 3:50am and we are just going to sleep now.  We heard the undocking on the communications and finally saw the Soyuz a bit later as she was moving behind us.  The ISS was actually flying belly first since this Soyuz was docked on the top of the Station.  That way she could push off straight aft of the Station after the docking hooks were opened.   So, it was difficult to find windows to watch her.  Then a couple orbits and hours later she did her deorbit burn.  We tried to watch  but she was such a spec it was again difficult to see her.  Finally, she was entering into the atmosphere and Yuri actually got a shot of the separation and her burning on into the atmosphere.  Here she is, Altair, soon after undock:

Our boys are finally back on Mother Earth.  It was great to see their smiling faces on NASA TV up here, thanks to our control team who sent up the streaming TV coverage!!!!

Geo Quiz:
Congrats to many of you!!!!  Wow, lots of folks know the Upper Peninsula of Michigan very well!  Pretty place I hear.  I need to see for myself one day.  The first entry was from Jane Neumann!  Congrats!  Thanks to everyone who is playing and keep the answers coming.  It is great to hear from all of you!!!

This week’s quiz is again quite easy so no hints this time!!!!  Okay, one…I had to look out the window and spy on my little dog and see if the weather on his birthday was nice…and if the home opener for the Patriots would have nice weather.  There are two for the price of one this week:

Geo quiz 1

Geo quiz 2

Things we did this week:
HTV loading, packing and close out – that was great!  It was like spring cleaning.  We emptied all our KTOs ( or poop containers!), got rid of lots of trash, bubble wrap and foam (remember the ride up to the space isn’t so smooth, so most everything is wrapped up carefully so it won’t break – which means lots of packing material taking up valuable space on the ISS).  The HTV has a Japanese breakup recorder for telemetry and a US I-Ball experiment which will actually send down video of the vehicle breaking apart!….


These things track the progress and the predictions of the orbital mechanics of the vehicle as it comes back into the atmosphere.  That helps them predict future vehicle reentry patterns, and just plain cool to see how something reenters the atmosphere – cool video!!!

HTV release on Wednesday was a crazy, as I mentioned above, but fun to work the three of us in the cupola again.  It is funny how these EVA and robotics things bring us all together.  A lot of the time we are doing our own tasks, but these really things really require coordination and focus.  We will miss Joe, but Aki, Yuri and I have a lot on our plates in the next couple weeks.  A different three will be again working together.

Some more maintenance which was needed and waiting on the list for a little while.  We changed out a hydrogen sensor on the Oxygen Generation System.   Remember one way we have O2 is by splitting water, H2O into Hydrogen and Oxygen.  We have sensors in the system to make sure the levels don’t get too high.  What is different about doing this type of stuff in a closed atmosphere, in the “can” we live in, is that we can’t by mistake produce too much of a certain of gas.  It is a closed system for the most part, so that extra gas comes to us.  So monitoring the amount of hydrogen we produce as a by product is very important for this system to work correctly.   In this process we were dealing with 100% Oxygen which can be sort of dangerous  – think third leg of the fire triangle.  So, for this procedure it is required to wear special gloves to make sure the connections don’t get the oils from your skin.  Safety conscious up here!

(See OGA above).

Urine Processor also needed a little maintenance.  So Joe changed out the control box of that piece of equipment.  Again, being very safety conscious, whenever we are dealing with urine, pretreat which breaks down urine so it doesn’t smell so bad and, well anything that has to do with urine, we wear PPE, Personal Protective equipment – safety glasses, mask and gloves.  Thankfully we don’t wear all that stuff when we are taking our own urine samples, only when working on the equipment.  Again, bad stuff and no way to open the window and let in some fresh air.  We breathe all this stuff.

Gorby’s birthday was of course, the 13th of September.  He and his sister, Cookie are now 11 years old.  Wow!  They still got it and Gorby is still keeping the neighborhood safe from squirrels and rabbits, at least with his loud mouth!  Never really wanted a yapping, ankle biting dog, but somehow I have one – thanks to mom and Dina for helping me with him when I am gone.  Back to the events on the ISS.  Well, in Russian tradition, when it is your birthday, you organize and hold a party for your friends.  So, as Gorby’s stand in, I made everyone here have a little party for him – full with presents to the Russians and cake for everyone.  It was fun because we essentially crashed the Service Module, the Russian end, carrying favorite foods for our friends, dates, oysters, chocolate covered espresso beans and chocolate pudding cake for everyone.  I brought my stuffed Gorby and actual pictures of him for everyone to enjoy.  I know you are all rolling your eyes, but it was a great way to get together and everyone wanted to see my family.  Thanks again for sending up the photo album with all of you, Mike, mom, dad, Dina, Jay, Ania, Coal, Elsie, Bailey, Thomas and Gorby!

(See Gorby’s bday above).

We also did a little water analysis.  We have a couple sources of water.  Our US portable water dispenser (PWD) in the US lab that is processed water from urine and condensate.  The Russian water heater provided hot and warm water processed from condensate.  And then a water fountain from a tank of fresh, spring water.  We take samples of each of these sources, analyze them as well as send samples home for analysis.  It is a lengthy process but nice to know the water we drink is good.

(see water lab above).

As well as samples to pack, Joe, Gennady and Sergei had to also spend some time getting themselves ready to go.  It is weird with them gone.  Now 2 of 4 sleep stations in the node 2 are empty, 1 of 2 in the SM are empty.  The station seems a bit empty and quiet.  We can fly back and forth really quickly and probably won’t bump into each other.  This station feels huge all of a sudden.  It is great that they cleaned everything out, but no remnants is weird.  We all decided this was the best thing to do, not leave any of our “junk” around for the next guys to have to throw away.  It is a good cleaning process…some of our clothes and personal items we get to take in the Soyuz, but only 1.5 kg.  We also have a breadbox sized container for our clothes to bring back home in the future SPACEX vehicle.  So, there is a lot of stuff we end up throwing away…It’s only stuff though, so no big deal. One of the things Gennady packed up was

the “phantom”, above.  It is a “replica of what a human body would be like and how much radiation it would get…weird.

Then, spiders were a hit during a Public Relations event we did with Google/YouTube.  I got to chat with Bill Nye, the science guy who was hosting an event to honor the kids who designed the experiments that were up here – the spiders and the bacteria.  It was fun to hear their voices.  I got to meet them in DC last spring when their experiments were chosen from thousands, to come up on HTV.  So, I know them and they were excited to see and hear about how all went up here.  Very cool and smart kids.  Amr, Dorothy and Sara were fun to talk to.  The event has been posted to YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCQVXEgSbrk.

Finally, it has also been a busy week end with ceremonies and good byes.  Those are hard when your friends leave – but we will very psyched to see these folks on the ground.  The ground teams are ready to catch this crew in Kustani.  SAR foreces, helos, ATVs, airplanes, doctors, nurses, managers all ready and waiting.  They have been on the ground there for a couple days.  One person who spent her birthday in Kazakhstan was Tricia Mack.  She is there coordinating some of the “samples” we send back.  Not much room in the Soyuz, but somehow we pack it tight to get down samples we need back very quickly.  Remember, once these guys undock, they are on the earth in just 4 hours!!!  It is a quick ride home.

We are now Expedition 33 and we will try our best to be as fun as Expedition 32!
Success and a fun mission are all about the people and how they interact with each other.  So, we had our change of command ceremony the day before hatch closure.  That allowed Joe, Genna and Sergei to really concentrate on coming home – if there was some emergency with the ISS after that, our crew, Aki, Yuri and I would handle it, those guys would concentrate on going home.  All of us are very thankful for our opportunity to serve up here so the COC was a great time to send out thanks to the ground for supporting us and making sure we were ready to work and live here.  It was then time for our crew to thank the Exp 32 crew for getting us ready to take over this station.  One thing I find is universal is true leadership, and Genna is a great role model in this capacity.  He is one of those people who take more time to pay attention to his people and the people that work for him, than the people he works for.  I will try to maintain the high standards he set and live by his motto – we are doers, not babblers.  Leadership can be taught, but it comes natural to some people and he is one of those.   We left our Exp 32 mark,

see zapping above.

Getting ready to come home means lots of exercise.  The 30S crew spend a lot of time on the treadmill this last week.  Even ran 2 times a day to get the loading and the cardio workouts.  It was impressive to see the focus really change and start to be all about going home.  Preparations will make life back in gravity a lot better.

For us, the regular workouts.  I have started to increase my load by taking off clips on my harness.  That makes the bungee pull tighten, hence more of a load on my shoulders and hips.  I hope to take 2 more clips off by the time we are ready to come home. That will get me to my on earth body weight.   That would be pretty awesome since I think last time, I didn’t quite get to my earth weight.
Today I got to “run” the Malibu Triathalon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and a bunch of folks.  I started the same time they did, 7am Malibu time.  We crossed over the west coast just after I started so I could see they were just starting as the sun was coming up!  The “swim” was simulated by about 15 exercises on the ARED, I biked a comparable hilly route of about 20 miles,  which was programmed into the CEVIS and ran the 5km on the T2 doing my 2 minute SPRINT protocol.  I finished all of it in 1:48:43.  It was fun, but I was tired after that…

Well, not much to talk about except our farewell lunch – that was fun!  We all crowded into the Russian Segment again for lunch – we haven’t done that except for Gorby’s party.  We were all down at the Soyuz, so decided Russian food for lunch would be good.  I had a can of Plov with fish.  It was awesome.  Large can, like a large dog food can.  But it was very tasty and reminded me of the plov at Izmalova.  Tasty, and I was even greeted with sauce – both spicy and savory sauce I could put on it.  Those guys are great hosts.
One other thing that always reminds me of dad are Lorna Doone cookies.   We have those up here, named shortbread cookies.  I love having those with herbal tea at night.  But I broke my crew care package and found chocolate covered Ginger, so that has taken the place of the cookies this week.

See cookies above.

General thoughts and questions:
Hank asked me a really interesting question..Why no stars in pictures???  Well, first of all it is difficult to get the settings quite right on the camera.  I thought I had a sample for you, but I didn’t like it and will keep trying to get you one.  Secondly, whenever there is light in the picture, the sun is up, the sky past the atmosphere is entirely black – our eyes can’t see the stars.  So, the starry pictures need to be taken during the night.  While I am working on my photography skills, check out the YouTube video “Walking in the Sky” – it is a real movie that was taken last increment showing stars, earth and aurora with time lapse photography – Don Pettit, expedition 31, is the best at doing this.
And here is another interesting concept for you.  We had a conversation the other day about what it would look and feel like going to Mars.  The stars really don’t move – we see relative movement as we go around the earth.  If you were on your way to Mars and only had the stars to look at (far enough away from Earth) , you would probably feel like you were sitting still.  Distances to stars are huge – so no obvious relative motion.  Just like it looks like you are flying slow at 30k feet when you are really going very, fast.  That would be a creepy feeling, like “are we really on our way to Mars, or are we just sitting here in the blackness of space???”

Happy Birthday last week and this week – sorry I got a little behind.  I am noticing there are lots of Virgos…it’s cold in late December and January – good snuggling weather…
Tricia Mack
Joel Montalbano
Annete Hasbrook
Daniel Pyrek– very belated, sorry!

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s


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