Week 15 – The Brady Bunch

Hi Everyone!!!

First of all – I hope everyone is doing okay with the storm!  We finally saw it today, Monday on our flight path.  It has been just a mass of clouds for a while, but now we see it.  Hurricane Sandy and the Frankenstorm are covering up everything from the Chicago area to past the east coast from our vantage point.  Now we can see the swirls…see Sandy above.  I hope dad had Gorby tied down so he didn’t blow away…

In the meantime – it’s a story, of a lovely Station, who was living with 3 kids of her own, they were 3 kids living all together, yet they were all alone.  Until, this one day when this Station met this Soyuz and they knew they were much more than a bunch – It is true, they somehow formed a family and that’s the way they all became the Expedition 33 Bunch!  Yep, you guessed it, we are 6 now and it most certainly like the Brady Bunch!  However, we have no parents, and no Alice to clean up after us!  And, the jury is still out on who is Marsha, Marsha, Marsha…

You can’t help but get into a routine when you are here for a while – you have a method, a plan, a way of doing things and then something happens, 3 new guys, and it changes. There are pluses and minuses to this change, but in general, change is GREAT!  Just need to get used to it and then it becomes the new standard.  Of course, Yuri, Aki and I knew our time as 3 was limited, but then subconsciously it seemed like we got closer in the last couple days.  For example, I went down to the Russian end of the station to just ask Yuri a question, and I found myself there for over an hour and a half.  We just had so much to talk about, the next couple weeks of activities, exercise philosophies, the new crew, the landing process, our families, rumors at home, the news, the origin of names, etc.  We had each other cracking up.  I was hoping Aki would come find us and join in, but it was really nice to just chat with Yuri.  That is one evening I will never forget.  And, I did find Aki a little later in a remote part of the Japanese segment, practicing his ukulele!!!  He was getting ready for our “concert”…I will talk about that later.  Then the two of us had a really nice chat about life, plans, hobbies, etc.  Again, that was an evening – the day before the Soyuz crew got here, that I will never forget.  Although on a daily basis you might not feel it, I found it has happened, Yuri, Aki and I have seriously bonded and that was even more evident when the “new guys” started their journey here  – I think it dawned on all three of us then the new guys got in their ride- not quite the Brady bunch station wagon – the Soyuz, and headed this way.

See Soyuz launch above.  Again, and again I will say this – I love this crew.  I am so happy to be part of it.  They are all great, but especially flying, learning and living with Yuri and Aki has been an honor.

So, the new guys – they are great sports and are just awesome – three of the nicest guys I know in fact!  We had a lot to do to get ready for them, and we were ready to teach them EVERYTHING we know…  With heads spinning, the are still perfect and eager to learn from Yuri the master and Aki and me for what we know.   I haven’t seen them stop smiling – except for when I was boring them at “emergency class”,

see above.   We review our Emergency procedures, fire, depressurization and Ammonia leak and what everyone’s role and responsibilities are.  Although I knew they were tired and I am sure listening to me babble in English wasn’t thrilling, all three, Kevin, Oleg and Evgeny hung in there and were great sports.  And, they are all so darned nice!  Crazy fun with them around is how I would categorize it.  Kevin flew as the pilot on a shuttle flight.  This is the first flight for Oleg and Evgeny.  So, really none of them have lived in space for a long time and that was evident as they lumber around for a little while. That will wear off soon and they will be experienced fliers before we know it.  In the meantime – batten down the hatches – Velcro isn’t strong enough to hold things in place right now…3 more people and it seems like there are traffic jams in our little station!

Geo Quiz:
I am most pleasantly surprised at how many people we right on with the Galapagos islands and the Mount Everest region!  Specifically, congratulations to Ken Kostel who wrote in first for the Galapagos and Tricia Mack for the Everest region!!!!

This weeks’ quiz is quite different.  There is water in the picture to help you guys identify it, but it is known for being quite flat.  The closest mountain is pretty far away…but cool stuff happens here.  In fact many people went out of their work roof tops here to see the space shuttle Endeavor fly overhead on the 747.  I head there was an awesome Air Show here just THIS weekend with the Blue Angels which our good friend Al jumping in with the American flag!!!  And, Gorby lives from time to time:

Things we did this week:  Well, we almost did a little of EVERYTHING it seemed like this week plus!  Only thing left is EVA and that is next week!

The science never stops up here – we are in microgravity and we can’t escape – experiments and hardware set up was needed right before the new crew got here and immediately after the new crew got here since some were being flown back to Earth on Dragon.  This past week was all about timing – our planners are amazing who put all this stuff together – somehow it all gets done…

Like I mentioned before, we cleaned the place up pretty nicely for our new crewmates, and got all their stuff ready to go, like their running shoes, biking shoes, first sets of underwear,. Toothbrush, combs, razors, heartrate watch, etc.  last thing you want to do after arriving here is go hunting around for stuff.  Aki got Kevin all squared away and Yuri got Oleg and Evgeny all squared away.    At some point they needed to get out of their Star Trek outfits!

See New Boys above.

Not only was a new crew of humans showing up, but also a couple schools of fish – Medaka!  They also needed their apartment taken care of – the Aquarium!!!!  Aki spent a lot of time working on freshening up the water for them and removing bubbles from the tanks!

See ZooKeeper above.  Bubbles are a big issue up here.  If we can figure out some way to get bubbles out of water, and yeah, a centrifuge would work, but not all equipment can have a centrifuge hooked up to it.  This is one reason research on capillary flow and edges that move fluid (shout out to Mark and the gang at PSU – keep up your work on this!!!!)  are so interesting and important to space flight.  An aquarium with lots of bubbles in not conducive to living fish!!!!  By the way, the fish are doing great.  Their aquarium is closed up now so we can’t see them directly.  However, they get fed 4 times a day by a conveyor type belt which runs on the bottom of the aquarium.  It has “fish food” sandwiched between 2 pieces of plastic.  As the plastic reaches one end of the conveyor belt, one side goes one way and the other side goes another way, exposing the food for the fish.  We get to watch them feeding, by way of a camera which is mounted next to the aquarium, on a monitor right outside their “apartment building.”  We can see they are all swimming a little more oriented now and are getting nice and fat!  Bellies are bulging!!!  I think I mentioned, they are here to study bone density changes in space.  They are transparent so we can see their skeletal structure if we look very hard – they are small, like 1 cm long each.  They do have big eyes though!

Aki and I also got to do more runs of Restibule and GAPs – fluid mixing experiments that went back to earth on Dragon.  Some ways of “fixing” an experiment are by adding a fixative, which Aki is doing,

see Mad Scientist above – which holds the liquids in a set known state or by freezing the liquid – like blood and urine.  All the experiments that were either fixed or frozen were getting packed and ready to be taken back to earth for analysis.

See MELFI, chill work above, and our Glacier,

see ice cream freezer above, the freezer that brought the ice cream and is returning blood and urine. As you can tell there was a lot of packing going on!!!!

See like moms suitcase above.

Something that didn’t get “fixed” or frozen that returned on the Dragon were our little friends, Cleo and Nefrititi!  I had to pack them up Saturday evening and get them all ready to come home.  I really hope they are free as I type, finding, jumping on and eating all sorts of fruit flies.  It really hit home with me when I put them in their “space suits” – the bubble wrap around their habitats – and put them in their bag in the Dragon – they would be home in hours after we released the Dragon, hopefully.   Seriously, I got a little emotional thinking about little living things with little hearts, brains, and all 8 of their eyes going thru that plasma on the way back into the atmosphere and splashdown in the ocean!  I have never felt this emotional about myself being in a spacecraft – but my heart ached a little thinking of these little creatures going on the ride of their lives – I gave each of the little packages a hug and got them ready to go…

see Cleo and Titi above.

One interesting thing about Dragon is that it doesn’t really take “trash”.  She has the unique capability to bring samples, parts, etc back to earth, but not generally trash.  This could be troublesome for the next couple increments up here.  We will have a Progress for trash, but that is generally Russian trash.  The next ATV or HTV won’t be for probably 6 months. That means 6 months of trash build up, including cans of “number two!”  So to help out a little bit – we used some of our old clothes as packing material for some of the equipment that came back down on Dragon.  No, not smelly stuff, just stuff that would be excess and end up in trash.  I lost some of my underwear in this trade – but I counted them out and should have enough for the next couple weeks…now if we get extended up here, there are enough boxer shorts to fill an entire Dragon still up here…would be an interesting change for me….

see packing material above.

Yesterday, a couple hours after we let the Dragon go, she was on her way into the atmosphere.  We were “behind” her and hoping to see her plasma trail punching thru the thickness of the air.  Unfortunately for us, it was daylight over the California coast so we were unable to pick that up, but we did see some boats heading out to sea by the islands off of LA – maybe they were the ones to go retrieve her???  I did get a picture from our friend Garret who works at SPACEX that showed our pet Dragon safe and sound floating in the ocean. The recovery boats were next to her to fish her out and recover the “goods” inside!  I am smiling thinking about my girls being set free…

As soon as Kevin got here, Huntsville and the payload team put him to work on a science study called ELITE, ELaboratore Immagini TElevisive – very interesting experiment.  Here is the summary:

_ On Earth, the ability to catch a ball depends on a mental model of the physical behavior of that object, a model that includes gravity. In a microgravity environment, crewmembers adjust their motor control strategies to respond to new rules, but still show evidence that the old gravity based rules are hard-wired into their brains through neural networks.
_ This experiment evaluates differences in the way the brain controls conscious and unconscious motions such as breathing, sitting and standing in environments with and without gravity.

We did some set up for him before he got here, but he is the star.  I mention some of this type of stuff to kids when I am talking about what it is like to be in space – for example we “learn” to throw a ball with an arc on earth to compensate for gravity.  Some of that learning is hard wired in us since we are born and live on earth.  It takes time to change that “hard wiring” so we will see if Kevin will change over time in micro gravity.  This is like when I tried to “pour” a bag of almonds in my mouth up here – “pouring” doesn’t work, but it is one of those things we do on earth without even thinking about it, I didn’t even think about it and tried to do it – of course, that doesn’t work in space!

One really cool thing I got to do before the rest of the Brady bunch got here was “drive!”  Again, not the family station wagon, this experiment is called Meteron – a robot on the earth, in Germany, around from up here on the ISS!

See Meteron above.  What is interesting and unique about this, is the network that is making this happen.  It is a concept network that might possibly be used for driving rovers around on Mars for example from an orbiting space craft, using orbiting satellites as relay stations.  I Tweeted a picture of this specific robot that I was driving as one of my very first Tweets.  This picture shows what I saw and how I drove the robot with a script of commands, separate commands and then, with the help of looking thru the “camera” on the rover, I was able to plan a strategy for driving to a specific place around obstacles!  I didn’t even hit anything – not bad for a woman driver!  You can sort of see my “race track” on the computer screen.  That was all I had to work with really and a picture sent back to me by a camera on the rover.  Each command sequence – to earth and return for feedback took about 5 minutes, so I wasn’t screeching around any corners…but actually very fun!

Like the utility guy and the quality guy, we also got to replenish a science rack called CIR, combustion integrations rack with Helium and mixed gas bottles.  This is a pretty elaborate “cooker”,

check it out in the burner above!  All sorts of fire experiments can be conducted in here – not it is closed so we don’t have direct interaction with it – just get it ready for the folks to use and run a test plan thru.  Aki and I also got to take air and surface samples to check out what stuff is in the air and on the surfaces of the station – we were looking for fungus and bacteria using agar filled petri dishes and surface sample slides – just like in junior high science class!  These types of things again make me feel like I am part of the Brady bunch in Jr. High – bunson burners, petri dishes – what memories….

Finally, I had a HAM radio pass with Falmouth Elementary School!  There were some great questions from the kids – Hunter for instance was wondering about things that “explode” in space and what I have seen.
It is starting to be “finals!”  I had my last Maximum VO2 test on the bike.  Preliminary results look pretty good.  I was told I have only lost around 5% of my Max VO2 before I left.  Now let’s remember that I am months older too, so of course some degradation is expected.  It is like when you turn in to the next age group in some kinds of races, triathalons, etc.  Your first year in your new “age group” you are the youngest and you can kick everyone’s butt.  Sort of like that – I am getting older, so my older Max VO2 looks pretty good…seriously, we will see if the proof is in the pudding when I get home and have to do all these test all over again to compare.  I feel like I am getting in good shape, working my heart, muscles and bones.  After our EVA this week, it will be my number one priority – getting ready to come home!

Well, we keep on thinking about having a party, so I keep bringing out my Azman’s sausages, sardines and oysters, and then put them away – we just can’t coordinate and get us all free early enough on a day this week…with soyuz arrival and Dragon release, it has been busy and our schedules have diverged a little bit.  In fact our “weekend” is actually today, Monday and tomorrow, Tuesday.  That is why this email is a little late – sorry…Our 100 day party with free beer is tomorrow at Sam’s Boat!  I hope all who are in Houston can come and say hi to us.  This is the food section of the email, so I will tell you there will also be some food at the party too, including cake!  I wouldn’t mind a report on how all that goes from any of the attendees!

After this week, we will be having a party, and it promises to be a goody with all the bonus food I have up here – I need to share my sausages, hard salami, cranberries, lobster and hummus – hopefully after a successful Progress Docking and successful EVA!

General thoughts and questions:
This week is Halloween – one of my most favorite holidays! No fuss, no muss – everyone is happy and eating candy and trying to rot their teeth!  It doesn’t get better than that!  I saw that Gorby is Dracula this year – how fitting!
Our costumes are big and white…can you guess what we will be?  Actually we will be getting dressed up a day later, Thursday at about the same time as the last EVA, so going “out the door” around 8am eastern time.  We plan on heading out to the far left/port side of the station to work on a radiator.  Should be a nice view from there.

Happy Birthday and Happy Halloween on Wednesday!!!!
Happy belated birthday to Terese Bisbee!!!
Happy Birthday Dina Contella our lead flight director for Expedition 32!  We sang her our rendition of Happy Birthday with Aki playing the Ukulele over the official communications channel last week…hope that wasn’t recorded because we were all awful – if you can imagine 2 not so good Americans singing, a Japanese guys singing, and 3 Russians singing all together on a crappy microphone in Mission control.  I am sure many people were putting their fingers in their ears!  But it was fun!

Thanks again for tuning in to our wacky group!
Smiles from space, where it is safe, s


Week 14 – Leave No Trace

Hi Everyone!!!

Another crazy week on the International Space Station with a myriad of fun and funny things to do.  One of those things all three of us are doing, maybe even subconsciously, is cleaning up!  I think we all want to leave a good impression on the new residents.  Even though we vacuum every Satruday, I may even sweep up the day before they get here – Thursday, because Mike knows how much I like to sweep…It is funny, it is sort of feels like we are selling a house – you want to leave a good impression so the next residents feel welcome, happy and comfortable.  All three of us have been cleaning up for them as well as preparing our stuff in the manner of the NOLS motto “leave no trace.”  NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) is something that most Astros go thru to learn and practice leadership and followership skills.  It is a great place to learn more about each other and other peoples’ personalities.  It is really important because we don’t always have the luxury to “match” crew personalities and you don’t necessarily fly with people just like you.  NOLS teaches you about seeing things from different peoples’ perspective, etc out in the “field” to put everyone on a level playing field and to crank up the stress by living outdoors.  They have really great courses all over the world, and very beneficial for everyone from kids to older adults.  Highly recommend folks look it up and think about going if you ever want to do team building …Although I am digressing, I can’t thank their staff and instructors for providing our program with such a great curriculum – scientists and pilots don’t always think alike…  One of their guiding principles in camping is “leave no trace.”  It is a great idea of leaving the land just like you found it – no sign that you were there for the most part.  Carry out all that you bring in (okay, well, we buried our poop, but carried out the paper or used rocks, etc instead of paper).  Here on the Station we are starting to do the same – no we don’t have rocks, but we do have a lot of “our own” stuff we are trying to get rid of.  Using extra clothing for packing material for example, downloading our computers to a hard drive, clearing out our sleep stations.  We cleaned out the 3 sleep stations this week for the new boys so they should be “dust free” as we tore into the inner workings of the USOS sleeping quarters.

See house cleaning above.  I feel that we are going to be rushed come November 18th, so getting all this stuff ready now is good – we are used to this moving stuff from all the travel for training – I know how to pack!

Geo Quiz:
Wow, people actually figured this one out!  Congratulations to Jayne Iafrate from Woods Hole to be the first to write in Reunion Island!  Nice job!  I am thinking you guys are getting the hang of this island thing…so let’s do another one, shall we!!!

This quiz you guys should easily get.  Okay, I will give you a clue or two – the equator, famous, in my favorite movie about leadership – Master and Commander!  I once tried to win a cruise there by entering a contest on a Stoney Brook Farms Yogurt label.  This is definitely one place I NEED to see in person, on my two feet.  Can you see the sea horse or the head of a great dane in the picture?  Maybe I am imagining things, but it is like looking at clouds and seeing shapes, only down…

From Geo 2, I think I can see the highest place on the planet…so that one should be pretty easy to figure out.  Check out the glaciers coming off the mountains – pretty amazing.

It is actually pretty amazing that we flew over these parts of the earth at the moment when there were no clouds.  I have never seen the Geo quiz from space before.  We have never been over IT on a “clear” day.  In fact, there was a hole in the clouds for me to get this shot.  All around was cloudy.  Geo 2 is also rarely seen because there are always clouds in the mountains.  The weather changes of spring and fall make these things possible!

Things we did this week:  This week was a hodge podge of stuff.  We are coming down to the wire with any “long range” plans to get stuff done, so we are filling in all our time with cats and dogs while the main things will occur in the coming weeks.

One of the things we really needed to get done was to change out the Water Pump Assembly.  This pump is downstream from the urine intake and is the main motive force to get the urine to be continually processed into drinking water.  We have been essentially filling up containers with semi-processed urine, and then adding in good water to our drinking water tanks.  This R&R (remove and replace) was pretty easy, with only some bolts and connectors.  That was a good thing, because we had to do it twice.  I am seriously getting good at doing these tasks twice.  I have started to memorize the torque setting – 61ft/lbs and 275 ft/lbs for the different bolts.  Yep, that’s right, 275 ft/lb – see big tools:

No weaklings here.  Kathy Logan watch out – arm wrestling as soon as I get back!  To change out this pump, we had to remove the privacy barrier around the toilet.

Checkout big bathroom above.  This small change made the module look and feel very different – empty, sort of like a throne, or stage where the toilet is!  Again, a whole new perspective with just one change.

If it wasn’t enough that we had to change the pump out twice (and that was because the first change out was an old design, and the team was just hoping it would work…it didn’t, it had “cemented” itself – space does funny things to chemicals), we also got another “urine bad pretreat” light on our toilet.  That was the light we had  before when we had to change that pump out.  “not again” was all that could go thru my mind as I talked nicely to the toilet and asked her to work again.  Well, after a couple flushes, she was back to normal.  Next the WPA had a trip and again, all I could think was “not again.”  After a long day of analyzing data on the ground (they have a lot more info than we have displayed up here by ways of telemetry stream that is pretty much constantly going down to earth), the ground team was convinced that it was an air bubble in the system.  So they started it back up and it has run like a charm every since – thankfully, now our “water balance”, what goes in, comes out and comes back in again – or in the words of Don Pettit, “today’s pee is tomorrows coffee,” is back to normal.

The middle of the week was filled with EVA stuff!  We both love that stuff and hanging out in the airlock.  It is like hanging out in the garage – hardware!  We charged up all our batteries: helmet light batteries, PGT (pistol grip tool or drill) batteries, glove heater and TV batteries and most importantly our suit batteries which run the computer and display on our suit which shows us our suit’s pressure, O2 tank pressure, O2 flow, CO2, etc and provides alarms.  That suit is a spacecraft and it has all the bells and whistles!  Along with the suit hardware checkout, we checked out the SAFER  (simplified aid for emergency rescue).  This is the “jet pack” which we can fly back to the station if we get disconnected while translating around outside.

See SAFER above.  Hopefully this will never happen, but the concept is cool.  Check out the hand controller.  We practice this with Evelyn and folks in the Virtual Reality laboratory (and up here on a computer they provide for us).  Let’s keep it to just practice, no practical use!!!

Speaking of translating – we are going to a totally different place on the station for the next EVA. We are going all the way out to the very end of one of the wings of the ISS.  We were checking out our worksite from the windows in the Japanese module –

see worksite above and check out the solar arrays!  There are 4 of those guys that run all the equipment in here – all solar power baby!  In the daytime, the arrays charge up batteries so we always have power stored up for us.

We got to do a little science stuff too!  Like Nanoracks which I described last time, there is another set of experiments called GAPs which will only be up here while SPACEX is here.  We activate them, and deactivate them; same principle as Nanoracks, but a little larger.

See GAP girl above.  This we do with a little crank you might be able to see my holding.  Fluids inside with different types of bacteria are mixed together when I activate them.  A fixing agent is also inside to “hold” the mixed fluid” in it’s state when I do the deactivation a couple days later.  These are pretty convenient ways to do science up here.  Each are self contained with 8 tubes inside.  You can run a lot of variables this way.  Pretty neat!  Aki did some similar science in the JEM with swabbing samples.  He also took out the freezer which brought our ice cream up in SPACEX.  He took it out so we can load one we already have up here that is filled with red and yellow popsicles…not cherry and lemon flavor though – blood and urine samples.

See Mary Poppins above.  No lack of imagination up here.  He looked just like her…without the dress, but you’ve seen him in a skirt before so you know better.

So, this coming week will be a “long” week of 9 days.  No weekend until next Monday and Tuesday, which means I might be late on my next email by a day or two.  The reason for that is we have a lot going on – first Kevin, Oleg and Evgeny arrive on Thursday – their launch in on Tuesday which I hope we get to watch.  Then we have to get ready to get rid of SPACEX on Sunday.  So, not much rest time for the new kids in town.

We are trying to get a jump on things by getting ready for the SPACEX release on Sunday.  So we checked out the end of our robotic arm.

See snared above.  I love this picture because it shows how the arm works.  Check out the wires, those are snares.  There is a target and a pin on the vehicle/module we want to snare.  We drive the arm over the pin so that the pin is between the snares.  Then we activate the snares and they close around the pin.  The pin has a fat head on it so the snares won’t slide off the end of the pin.  The vehicle/module is then captured when sensors at the ends of the snares detect they are stretched or feel a load.  There is a cam mechanism on the inside of the LEE (latching end effector) which then pulls the vehicle into the housing and provides tension to keep the vehicle attached to the arm.  Pretty cool mechanical process by way of the Canadian Space Agency.  This crane/arm is their huge contribution (note they have no module/laboratory), and the station would not have been able to be assembled without it!  Chris Hadfield, from CSA was my backup and will fly on a Soyuz to the ISS in December to join Kevin’s crew.  He was on the shuttle flight which brought up the robotic arm and did a couple spacewalks to put it together.  Very experienced, great guy who is also a great guitar player!!!  When Kevin leaves, Chris will be the ISS commander, a first for Canada!!!!  Get ready Chris!

Finally for activities this week, Aki was back in the playhouse!  He was setting up the AQM – the aquarium!!!!

See evolution above.  Yes, that is right, we are getting FISH on the Soyuz coming here this week.  No, they are not here to provide Aki fresh sushi – although, that is not a bad idea… They are part of an experiment to look at bone density and muscle mass and what happens to these little guys up here.  They are called Medaka and are transparent fish.    So the cameras will be on them and the idea is to see how their skeletal structure holds up/changes while they are here.  There are more details to it, but I will talk about that when we get the fish!  I can’t wait to see them, how we transfer them to their habitat, how they “swim”, how they eat!  Should be interesting!!!!

Speaking of animals, the Spider Girls will get packed this week. They get back to earth on Sunday.  I hope they make it.  Little Cleo is being elusive again.  Big dark “Titi” is in the corner…not moving much.  I will be happy to pack them up – hopefully it isn’t like I am putting them in a coffin…hang in there, there are many fruit flies on earth…and no, we don’t have bugs up here to my knowledge.  Maybe bed bugs, but nothing floating/flying around in the open so releasing them here wouldn’t be a good idea…

I have to mention Friday – it was Public Relations Friday for me.  No getting lonely up here, I got to chat with 5 groups of people in one day!!!   It was very fun though, but I will have to admit, this is NOT one of my favorite things about being an astronaut, because I get pretty nervous talking to crowds of people.  But talking to kids reminds me that I am just a kid like them, and they have the greatest questions!  First was a group at Mission Control in Moscow.  It was an international Olympics with kids from all over the world doing science projects.  The accents were heavy and questions in both English and Russian – questions on space policy, and what the ISS is doing for people on earth!  Next was my Naval Academy Class reunion and homecoming football game!  I got to talk to our class – and see some of them over Net Meeting.  Questions about the end of the shuttle program and what/when commercial space craft will be taking people to space. Next, I had a HAM radio pass with kids in Erie, Pennsylvania.  One young lady wants to go to the Naval Academy and asked me about how going to space has changed my perspective on the planet.  After that an interview with CollectSpace.com where we talked about the upcoming crew, and even Halloween!  Hopefully they will bring us some treats and not too many tricks!  Finally, in the evening, I got to talk to a bunch of folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Remember Ray Schmidtt, the lead scientist on the Knorr?    Well, he hosted it and introduced me and we got to compare ship life with space craft life with a tour of ISS.  Lots of folks brought their kids so I got all sorts of questions about living in space.  Questions about what improvements we would like to have to what is my favorite part about living here and how we do laundry – luckily there is no folding required up here!!!!  I hate folding!   And, even Dominique from the Falmouth beach report HAM radio contacts showed up without his hat so I could see his red hair!  Thanks to everyone who made me feel at home with them today.   One thing to note is when Aki and I saw all those people in the auditorium at the Woods Hole event – wow, it looked like a lot of people.  Remember we have only had 6 at most people up here with us.  So a crowd does seem overwhelming.  I remember that from when I came home last time.  Your brain tries to process all these people, their names, their associations and it almost got me light headed last time.  I realized that I do miss earth and mostly the people on it!  Absence makes the heart grow fonder…

Treadmill kinematics…yuck!  I am hoping this was my last one.  I was “encouraged” to go up in weight.  Remember that means making the bungee pull harder by stretching it more.  I now “weigh” around 134 lbs on the T2, unless there are some corrections that need to be factored in.  Gosh, that hurt at first.  With the removal of the clip, I jumped up about 10 pounds.  Now that immediate pain reminded me not to gain weight on the ground.  It hurts lugging around 10 extra pounds!!!  But I should thank John DeWitte for his protocol and “encouragement” to increase the weight – now I have moved up on all my protocols.  I did the hardest one for me, the 2 minute SPRINT one today.  I had to back off a little on the speed to get thru the toughest parts, but it got my heart pumping like crazy.  So, thanks John, but St. Francis still lost to Central Catholic in Toledo so you owe me some Tony Packo’s pickles and peppers and a beer!  I will make you pay up when I get home.  That is my little revenge on you for making me work so hard!!!!

Yep, I got them in my crew care package – that’s right I am talking about my favorite Cape Cod Bagels!!!!  My absolute favorite is the honey grain with bacon/scallion cream cheese.  I will most definitely have that combo when I get back to Falmouth, but in the meantime I had cinnamon raisin with Hazelnut chocolate butter on it….yummmm.

See THE treat above.  I was in heaven.  And wow, that bagel tasted really fresh.  You guys and the food lab at NASA did a great job making and packaging the bagels so they taste great up here.  Who knew????  Bread is really hard to get right on orbit.  It can’t be too crummy.  The Russians fly little small bread loaves so you can pop the entire thing in your mouth without crumbs. We have chipotle and wheat flatbread and tortillas.  All are fine, but sort of bland.  The bagel was anything but bland!!!  Awesome.
Oh, I have to tell you about a little treasure I discovered today.  I was getting ready to talk to Dad, Dina, Mrs. DiNapoli, her husband John, Lynn Margoulis and the lady who MAKES the bagels, so I hydrated some apple cider.  I wanted to show them something fun flying around so I got together my Bullseye candies.  Of course, I had to eat one and then took a sip of the apple cider and BAMMM!  It all tasted like a carmel apple.  How cool is that!  I really feel like that big blueberry girl on Willy Wonka with these food sensations.  But try it, it is pretty satisfying!!!

General thoughts and questions:
All that sugar is sure to make me sick up here…and the hot Indian food is sure to give me indigestion…actually, luckily I don’t really have those problems usually!  And a little vanilla pudding goes a long way after hot food…  Actually the health regime starts before launch.  We are in quarantine for a couple weeks and eating only stuff that is made for us for the most part.  All the food that comes up here has to pass inspection and has to get “certified”.  So, all that process is controlled.  While we are up here, we are only subjected to this semi-sterile environment.  One of the ongoing experiments is how/if our immune system gets somewhat compromised by the “lack” of bad stuff around us.  I guess it sort of gets lazy and doesn’t have to work hard.  That is why any visiting vehicle is inspected thoroughly so it doesn’t bring bad stuff up here.  It is also why Yuri and I were wearing masks and goggles when we entered SPACEX for the first time – you never know if  metal shaving is floating around or if there is something bad in the air (CALIFORNIA air…).  So, our air filtrations system got hooked up to it for an hour or so before we could go in there without the equipment.
Even with all that, sometimes folks don’t feel too good up here.  But that is rare.  We do have an entire locker of medicine for folks.  Luckily we haven’t had to take anything.  No one has got sick while we have been here.  But last time, I did throw up after ascent.  We have special plastic bags with a cloth sewn into them for double duty of holding the puke and cleaning up your face.  Really, the toilet is NOT an option for all that.  It just has to get projected in the right direction or surely your crewmates will be mad at you.  Everyone is conscious about this on launch and ready to help each other out.  But once we get here, I think most people have been fine.  The weekends are always time to recharge, and that is when you find everyone sleeping in to catch up and prevent from getting sick – way too much going on up here to take a sick day…but I can tell that by Friday, I want a day off.  The regular weekend schedule is nice.

Happy Birthday this week and last week! Dohhh….

Larry McGlynn – you are in good company, I missed writing Happy Birthday to the US Navy too!!!!
Jugal!!!!  Thanks for keeping our family in India in touch!
Erik Porter – the father of Shay, the next rocket builder and Sejal, the next Olympic soccer player.
Claire Williams – who likes to “jump into action!” like uncle Mike
Ed Williams – who has a new knee!!!  Congrats and we will go jogging when I get back!

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s

Week 13 – Lucky 13!

Hey there Everyone!!!!

Well, the week started out great on Sunday and just got better!!!  From a Patriots win over Peyton Manning and the Colts, I mean the Broncos (and Navy beating Air Force on Saturday) to SPACEX launch, WOW!!!!  We even got to watch these events on our “TV” up here.  It is actually just a computer with TV piped into the NetMeeting system.

We use a Ku system for this video reception – it is the same system that allows us to make phone calls, which some of you know end rather abruptly at times because of “loss of signal (LOS).”  So, it was actually quite fortuitous for us to have reception exactly at the time of liftoff.  However, we did NOT have reception at the end of the Pats/Broncos game which drove me a little crazy, until we got communications back with Mission Control so I could get the final score…this would be a bummer on Mars – no timely knowledge of the football scores!

Then we had Monday, Columbus Day, “off” so we got to sleep in!!!  I woke up around 0800 and of course I was the only one up.  As usual, I turn on the lights and open the window shutters in the cupola.  I play this game with myself – I don’t look at the map and then see if I know where we are on the planet just by the geography whizzing below me.  My geography and sense of direction have always been pretty good so I usually win my game…and Monday was no different.  I won because I knew right away we were near Alaska even though it was nighttime, why, because we were surrounded by AMAZING Aurora!  The space craft was flying right in the middle of it – the cupola was practically green when I opened up the window shutters!  I was a little awe-struck and didn’t get a picture that morning, I just enjoyed it and watched the waves of energy swirl and hit the planet.  To get an idea of what I am talking about, please go to YouTube and watch “Walking in the Sky” – it is time lapse photography turned into a video which really shows what is going on from Don Pettit and Expedition 31 folks – a single picture can’t explain it, but to give a small sense of what we see:

Geo Quiz:
I knew it was going to be hard for a couple reasons, cloudy picture and out in the middle of now where…but from my hint, Heidi Moser gets the privilege of bragging rights this week!  It was Tahiti of course!!!!

To keep your obscure island skills working, this one is off the coast of Madagascar.  Again, like Tahiti, the name should be familiar to most of you, but you might not know what it looks like in “person”.  I was using a big lens, so didn’t get the entire island in this photo, but thought you should see the crater/volcano???  Very cool!

See Geo quiz above.

Things we did this week:
Of course the biggest thing we did this week was catch and tame the Dragon!  Now that was a lot of fun – even a little overwhelming at times knowing our friends in California were all watching – Garrett!!!   I think I can best describe the day with pictures…

-Quiet Moment – I was in the Cupola watching out for her as she approached us from behind.  I got my own two eyes on here with a “Tally Ho” call to MCC as her trajectory brought her directly underneath us as she was closing in.  Go Navy!!!

-3 in the cupola – everyone had to come take a look at her once we saw her!

-Here she comes – with her attitude control jets firing away she started slowing as she started flying up the “R” bar, meaning she was approaching us from below.   She would fly to a point to “stop,” actually fly formation directly below the robotic arm!

-We got her – After I turned off her attitude jets with a “free drift” command (we can do that with the CUCU system I told you about last week, we can also send her away if she was acting/flying badly), Aki, with his golden hands, maneuvered the robotic arm to grab her!
The ground flight controllers in Houston then got to “fly” the Dragon with the robotic arm to a hover position over the docking mechanism – nice flying Melanie!!!

-Berthed – I got to try my “hands on the sticks” of the robotic arm and berthed to the mating mechanism on the ISS.  She then became part of us!

There are a couple of things that have to happen to get the hatch open.  Luckily enough Aki and I had been through this all before with Joe during HTV so we were pretty familiar and got it done lickidy-split like.  That was all we were going to do, but when we looked at our watches and it was only 4 pm-ish, well, we decided, what the heck, the ice cream is on the other side of the hatch, let’s open it!  Not sure if you guys know, but this was a big deal for NASA and SPACEX.  Yes, there was a SPACEX demo mission in May.  That was a proof of concept event.  This event marked the first in a long string of vehicles that are under contract between the US government and a private company – so lots had to go right for this one.  I didn’t realize it either until I got some clarification from the folks at NASA.  What is most important about this vehicle is its return cargo capability.  We have not had that really since the space shuttle days.  All the other visiting vehicles, except Soyuz thank God, burn up on their way back into the atmosphere.  So, nothing can be returned on them.  This SPACEX will be filled with all sorts of stuff – from frozen blood and urine, to Space suit water samples, to science experiments and experiment results, to video tapes, broken pieces of equipment for refurbishing and even spiders!!!  A capability we desperately were in need of.  We will talk about how all that happens closer to those events, but suffice it to say, this cooperation with the private sector is surely on its way!!!  Competition is good,   For example – Dragon has bright lights, like Christmas lights inside of her.  This is very different from the ISS lights which take time to light up and need to be changed often.  Reminds me of a joke: how many astronauts does it take…

For the next couple days we unloaded and loaded the vehicle – it IS roomy and bright!

See Load Master above.  Not only did we find ice cream in there, but we also found a very thoughtful and timely gift from one of our friends at SPACEX – fall apples.

See Adam and Eve above.  Like Yuri’s mom, I told him eat his fruits and vegetables and not spoil his dinner by only eating ice cream!

The Dragon isn’t that big, so we ended up getting most of the cargo loaded, except for that late, last minute stuff by Friday morning.  That left us free to do a couple more things this past week.  A couple of those things were Aki’s leg ultrasound.

No, it is not Gladiator wear, it is actually a template so there is repeatability in the ultrasound scans we do of our leg muscles.  Although I could seriously see someone wearing this attire in Moscow… either friends of Joe or Kurt….

One of the experiments that was delivered on Dragon and will be completed while it is here is called Nanoracks. Nanoracks is actually a capability – obviously, very small “racks” which are provided power, data and cooling for small experiments like the size of a milk carton. This type of thing, sort of  like the micro satellites provides a relatively affordable way for schools, university and colleges to get some of their small experiments performed.  One of the experiments we are doing involves mixing fluids in microgravity to see what occurs – I can’t see in there, but I think these are like biology samples that “produce or something when combined.”  The packaging to make them fit in the Nanoracks structure makes them “glow stick” size.  They are in fact just like glow sticks which are activated when I break the ampoules inside.  I simply break the ampules to mix the fluids for a certain amount of days.

See Nanroack above.  These experiments only need a small amount of time in microgravity, so they will be flown back on SPACEX.

One more thing we are doing is getting things ready for Kevin and his crew, Oleg and Evgeny!  I wanted to get some of the long range stuff knocked out of the way so he doesn’t have to worry about it. One of those things was yearly maintenance of CEVIS, the bike. I got to take it apart, clean it up and re-grease it with Braycote. The directions for regreasing it looked just like laying down a rim of frosting on a cake – I should have paid more attention in cake decorating class or watched more Ace of Cakes! I got it done and didn’t lick the Braycote so now, the bike is set for another year!

Spider update….I saw both of them.  They get packed for SPACEX and I think not soon enough…maybe it is just me, but they look like they are moving slower…

Lastly, Aki is still participating in his Energy experiment by logging his activity and peeing in a bag – gets old after a while. And then on Saturday we did an interesting Japanese experiment called Unwinding. Hopefully this helped his energy experiment, but not sure – we had to throw a ball back and forth to each other while floating.  It was fun, and actually reminded me a little of yoga. This exercise made you concentrate on what you were doing. You couldn’t really think of other things and get distracted, you needed to concentrate on catching and throwing the ball. It was sort of a mind clearing exercise for me. It was also evident that we preferred subconsciously to be upright with each other to throw and catch the ball.  We started head to toe, but would inevitably be oriented the same way by the end of each exercise. Very interesting the subconscious of us humans…

At that point in the “season,” the activities are not so exciting, but you need to do it!!!  I distinctly remember that time of swimming season, around the holidays when there aren’t a lot of meets and the yardage just got longer and longer at practice.  You start to dread going to workouts, because you know it is just going to be a long evening of staring at the black line – well, that is sort of what the workout machines are starting to look like here.  You know you have to do it for the end result to come out well – but it is painful and difficult to make the most of all the workouts.  This is certainly one of those “gut it out” times for exercise.  You may have heard that we are probably going to send someone up here for a year in 2014 or 2015.  We were talking about how exercise will be tough for that long of a period.  I would seriously suggest mixing up the routine to prevent too much of this “dread”.  The workouts need to happen, but the psychology of all this is something to mention. One good thing we have going for us is that we are starting to prepare for our EVA…so now a little more concentration on upper body again.  In fact, the beach muscles need a little toning so it is time!!!!

Really, it doesn’t get any better than this!!!!  What can I say, ice cream and my all time favorite, fall apples.  How cool is that!  We got 6 apples and I ate my 2 in one day.  I felt healthier right away – I ‘m not kidding!  Anything to keep Dr. Hart “away”.
Then on top of it, we got a “crew care package.”  That is all filled with goodies for all of us.  I got dark chocolate covered pretzel balls – yummmm – Tracy knows I will NOT let these things stay in the house for more than an hour.  Somehow, I am savoring them up here and they lasted 3 days…I got my favorite Bullseye caramels – which I haven’t opened yet, because I know they will be gone very quickly too.  AND I got dried sausages from Azman’s in Cleveland!!!!  I am totally saving these for when Kevin, Oleg and Evgeny arrive.  We will have a grand celebration for them – we will even save them some ice cream. See the reward:

General thoughts and questions:
So, I am looking at the calendar and for some reason time is starting to accelerate…why does that happen?  It is sort of like the holidays – they seem so far away, but as soon as Halloween happens everything starts to kick into motion and you feel like Christmas is almost here…I think Einstein couldn’t explain this one – it is more of a perception than a reality.  As the end of our time on the ISS approaches, for some reason, things go faster.  It felt like we just got here and it is almost time to start thinking about coming home.  With lots of stuff in front of us, a new crew, getting rid of SPACEX and an EVA it is almost hard to imagine being on Earth.  But it is right around the corner.  Our time up here was extended by a week, so we won’t be coming home until he 19th, but that feels like it will be here tomorrow!  Time to really savor every moment of this little vacation from Earth.

Congratulations to KRIS KARNAUSKAS for running 100 miles all along Cape Cod – ending in Ptown.  Wow, that is crazy, but he is amazing!

Happy Birthday this week – The balanced, libras we know!!!!
Shannon last week – now 21 time to go crazy!
Mehul TODAY, Sunday
Kristen coming up next week – has always been crazy.
And,  MOM’s birthday tomorrow, Monday!!!!  Yes, also crazy, but in a fun way!
And I know there are some Williams’ around the corner (next weeks), but if you have some more additions, let me know!

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s

Week 12 – Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

Hey there Everyone!!!!

Happy Columbus Day!  If I recall elementary school history correctly, not everything went as planned for Columbus on his voyage across the ocean.  Well, not everything is going as planned up here on our voyage around the planet either…One of the biggest lessons learned from being a “space station guy” rather than a “shuttle guy”, is that you really can’t get married to any plan.  No matter how much planning goes on, things will always work out differently.  Not “everything” works out differently, but enough stuff changes, so you’d better be flexible.

(A quick note on lingo – I know not everyone knows what I am talking about when I say “station guy” or “shuttle guy”.  It is, of course, the space craft you spend most of your time on.  As a shuttle guy, for shuttle missions, practically every minute was planned out and those flights generally went that way.  Shuttle guys practiced the entire timeline of the space flight.  Of course, living on the ISS, you can’t practice everything you have planned to do, AND it won’t be like that anyway, because something will break, some radiation will crash a computer, something will be missing, someone will change their mind…many reasons.  So, the mindset of the “station guy” has to be a lot more of just “go with the flow.”  And station guys are much more laid back, happy go lucky, generally more fun, especially at parties, have better senses of humor, probably can drink more and lift more…but I digress….)

As you might guess, I consider myself a “station guy” and I like it.  I actually like getting surprised by the next turn.  And, especially with Expedition 33, I am totally psyched that our ground team likes to be surprised too.  They think of changes to the plan as “challenges” and they want to beat the challenge.  I love that attitude and they need that since they have been faced with many “challenges” this week.  We had all sorts of issues this week that were/are coming to a head and need to get resolved before:
SPACEX arrives
We unpack/pack SPACEX
The next Soyuz arrives
An EVA occurs
We leave in our Soyuz…wait, did I say EVA….we will see…the station has some more issues and we might get the opportunity to “fix” them outside.  The plan is very rough right now, so one thing at a time – that is our motto.  We have to concentrate on getting the NEXT thing done right now and that is SPACEX!  Launch is Sunday night/Monday morning!  So, by the time you get this email, SPACEX1 might be on her way here!  She is supposed to be close enough to the ISS on Wednesday so we can grab (our mother’s favorite word) her with the robotic arm!!!  Should be fun. (Another quick lingo note.  You may recall, there was another SPACEX flight earlier this year.  That was called “demo”.  So that is why the second flight is called “1”…of course…And, Just to add one more bit of confusion to nomenclature, the rocket is called Falcon9 (9 engines) and the capsule part, which should reach the ISS , is Dragon.  So, during our robotics practice sessions, we have been practicing to be “Dragon Slayers” – how cool is that!)

So, like all exploration and discoveries, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over and we are no where near getting in our Soyuz vehicle and coming quite yet.  Another month or so before we start thinking about that and a whole lot can change between now and then – instead of tea and spices, we might just end up with a whole new world!

Geo Quiz:
Well, I think the time zone helped our friends in Russia to be the first ones to send in the correct answer!  Congratulations to Reid Wiseman for staring and staring and staring at the photo before he realized it was where he sang Irish songs, flew a little bit, watched an airshow practically every day and ran wildly on the white sands of Pensacola, Florida!  Yes, the “cradle of Naval Aviation.”  I was happy to get responses from practically all the Naval aviators out there.  And those of you who didn’t know who you are, and SHAME on you!  A wildly fun town where many of us started our careers as pilots.   Being the home of Naval Aviation, there is an awesome aviation museum there on the base. I would highly, highly encourage any of you aviation buffs to take a trip there and check it out.  I was lucky enough to do some stuff with the museum and kids around the country.  They are dedicated to aviation history and education.  A great place to check out!  Plus, the beach is just awesome!

This week’s quiz is coastal, but will be difficult…There is one person out there who might get this little joke about this place, Heidi and Vicki, “if only he was 5 and we were in____”  Good luck!  One other hint is that it is in the Pacific and this next picture is right next door.  Any scuba divers out there may know…or just pick some famous Pacific Island and send it in!

The next picture is right next door – I call it “nature’s swimming pool.”  Can you imagine swimming in there???  How absolutely beautiful!

Things we did this week:
There are a couple of things that really stand out this past week as being just plain old cool!  First were a couple of “contacts!”  One was a beach contact with Dominque Fucile, his dad and my sister.  They were out at the Manauhant beach, Tuesday morning at 5am to watch us fly over and talk to us via the HAM radio!  It was so cool to look out the window see the earth and know you are talking to people right below you – crystal clear as it is line of sight.  We have these radios onboard as emergency radios, hardened, tried and true, and use just in case all the other radios don’t work.  In the meantime, we also use it for school contacts with kids who learn about radios, how they work, usually put one together and then arrange a contact thru NASA for the time we fly over.  But Tuesday was the first time I just jumped on the radio to contact earth.  It was cool and I got the beach report including surf height and water temperature (swimmability) from Dominque!  Thanks!
Secondly, I got to talk to the Knorr research vessel on its way to the Azores after a month at sea, researching the salinity in the Atlantic!  We can see ship wakes from space pretty easily, but unfortunately we weren’t over the middle Atlantic during our conversation.  We started chatting while we were over Russia, and 20 minutes later we were in the South Pacific Ocean.  The conversation itself was amazing when you think about it – from an orbiting space craft to a sailing ship at sea and it was crystal clear!  What advances in technology we have nowadays!  These folks from Woods Hole were in the middle of the ocean doing research just like we are doing up here.  I had a great chat with Captain Seaman, chief scientist Ray Schmidt and NASA engineer Eric Lindstrom about the science Woods Hole is doing and the cooperation between sea and space research. In fact, the Knorr’s replacement ship will be called the Neil Armstrong – which totally signifies the spirit of research and technology on, under and off the planet.  The conversation should be on the Woods Hole website before long!

The second coolest thing we did this week was launch the Japanese Cube-Satellites!  That was really awesome to see.  I described most of it last week – so I won’t spend too much time but to say they deployed just as planned.  Aki let go the first set, 2 of them, one rectangle, one square.  The second set was deployed by the controllers in Japan, 3 cube satellites.  My job was to be in the cupola and take pictures – it was hard, they came out so quickly and moved past the solar arrays and away from the ISS immediately and at a pretty good clip.  The launch was by a spring force in the container and in space there is really no drag, no slowing down, so off they scooted!  We were pretty surprised that they did launch between us in the cupola (the main stack of the ISS) and one set of solar arrays.  You can see in the picture, SSOD.  No danger, but a little surprising to see something of that size fly by the window…Just to give you a reference, something that size, if it hit us would be pretty catastrophic – that would be a big piece of space junk!

See not so close and there they go above.  At the end we needed to clean the toys up and get the “launch table” back into the airlock.

See space thru the looking glass above.

So, this week was the week of surprises, especially in the maintenance world.  One thing after another didn’t work right – but with the help of some really smart and “challenged” people on the ground, we weren’t going to let these things stop us or get us discouraged – we persevered and got it all fixed in the end…
First was the Toilet!  I went in to change the pretreat tank out.  You get so many flushes, and we have a flush counter, before you need to change out the pretreat tank which stabilizes the urine.  Nasty stuff again, so PPE is needed to do this.  So, the tank was changed, and changed again, and then changed back to the original tank because we got a light on its control panel that said “pretreat quality bad.”  Of course we suspected the  pretreat to be the culprit.  But after replacing the old tank with 2 brand new tanks, then working on the old for a little while and again the quality bad light on – we knew there was something else wrong.  No big deal, right, we have another bathroom on the Russian side…but it is our bathroom down here.  It has our stuff in it and it is close to everything down here.  I know I sound spoiled wanting a toilet next to our workspace, but you know how it is when the cleaning lady closes the door to the bathroom on your floor at work…sort of bums you out when you have to run and find another bathroom at THAT moment…ughhh….Not to mention, it was getting toward sleep time, which means those late night, early morning bathroom runs were all the way down in the Russian segment (about a 15 second flight – possibly in the dark), and next to Yuri’s sleep station – lots of pump noise for him to enjoy if we needed to use “his” bathroom.  Thankfully we were given permission to “flush” twice that night, so Aki and I had our moments in our bathroom before sleeping…
The next day we were asked to change out the pump.  Apparently the engineers figured out that the amount of pretreat pumped out each time was inadequate from our pictures and their analysis.  So we dove back into the guts of the toilet again, changed out the pump, installed one of the new pretreat tanks and VOILA – it worked!  Those engineers are good.  We now look at our toilet a lot differently – we will never take her for granted again…I thank her each time I turn on the hose and hear the right sounds and see the right lights!

See toilet guts and our lovely toilet above.

Our next bugger of a thing was that RPCM that I talked about last week.  Well, after trying out many RPCMs (circuit breakers) unsuccessfully, the old one happened to stay closed for about 4 days.  We were getting happy with that, thinking that it possibly heated up and changed the metal such that it wouldn’t open again – but it did.  We need this RPCM closed, power applied to downstream workstation, to be able to have a backup robotics workstation to grapple SPACEX.  So, instead, we just jumpered the electrical connectors with wires – we put small wires between the pins and plugs of one connector to the pins and plugs of another connector.  A little rudimentary and forced, but, heck, it works!!!!

See the electrician above.

Some more standard maintenance we do is cleaning air filters and making sure the air flow throughout the station is good and uniform.  I performed flow measurements with a VELOCICAL measurement machine – like a handheld anemometer (Kurt reminds me of the good old days taking wind measurements).  That way we can feel and see if there is anything possibly hindering airflow.  This is important, because air pockets build up if there is no airflow.  That is bad, because it could be bad air pockets like CO2, so it is necessary to keep the air moving, filtering and cleaning. (Side note – for some reason, the food up here makes people fart – or maybe it is just my impression, no , I know it makes people fart…so thankfully the air moves.  But every now and then you fly thru a pocket of “bad” air…not so nice…) From these measurements the engineers on the ground can figure out where and what needs cleaning.  Aki had the pleasure of donning battle gear to go in and clean a part of the ducting where they decided there was dust – and yes they were correct!  Lots of dust piled up in this part of the ducting, but he got it nice and clean!

See the duster above.

Next we did some scheduled maintenance on the Oxygen Generation System.  Lucky, with this piece of equipment, all went as planned.   This cool machine splits water, H2O into Hydrogen and Oxygen.  Water is truly the basis of life on and off the planet – just like the toilet, I have learned not to take it for granted!!!!  This activity involved opening up the rack and replacing a filter.  Water has to be really clean/pure to magically turn it into something to breathe so there are filters in the system to ensure that.  The only difficult thing with this was that one end of the filter is on one side of the rack and one end is on the other…to get to the back side of the filter we “rotated” the rack.  I bring this up to illustrate how the ISS is made.  Racks (no, not a deer or anything else you might be thinking…) line the modules and that is why the inside of the module looks square.  They are curved on the backside to conform to the cylindrical shape of the module which 1) gives the rack more space, and 2) allows then to rotate into the “hallway” to get to the back of them.  Pretty slick design actually!

See the gas man and backside above to get an idea of what the front looks like and how to get to the back side.

This week we did some of the medical tests including Aki’s resting and exercising ICV (integrated cardio vascular).  One other fun thing we did was use our SLAMMD, or the US version of the weight measuring system.  Again, it is based on momentum of a mass.  Unlike the Russian version which uses a spring to do this, this machine uses a magnet.  Just like the Russian version – this is all just pretty fun.  It actually felt a little like a carnival ride without the carnies –thankfully.

See see saw in space above.  By the way, the results of this test were almost identical to the Russian version.  My weight is staying quite steady!

In preparation for SPACEX we got to do both “offset grapples” as well as used our simulator ROBOT to practice for Dragons approach and grapple.  It is getting more and more real and with these runs we even practiced for malfunctions with the proximity system, and malfunctions with the grappling system on the robotic arm.  We also set up and tested the CUCU system.  We have left it powered and on now until after we connect the Dragon to station.  Remember the CUCU system is the communications system of the vehicle to the ISS.  I mentioned pictures of all this last time, but I am going to instead get you pictures when it is the real thing – like this Wednesday!!!!  Aki and I have been practicing this a lot together over the past couple years.  I think we can even read each others minds now in regards to these robotic operations – no, I’m neither space crazy nor have we had brain implants – we’re just in sync now and almost READY!

So, Guess who we saw this week – our little Cleopatra!  Honestly, I stumbled upon her because I really don’t want to look at either her or Nefertiti (aka Tit’i) nowadays.  I don’t know how long they will live and I would just hate to see one…well, let’s say, not moving for good.  So, I avoid looking at their habitats.  However, I was in the vicinity the other day while Cleo was out hunting around and snapped a picture of this pretty little zebra spider.  I fear for their existence and am hoping SPACEX will get here soon enough – and leave soon enough to get them both back to earth and the plethora of fruit flies…

see Cleo! Above.

Friday was Science Friday!!!!  I love that radio show so I am happily borrowing that term to describe our Friday – which was pretty much all science.  We were getting science projects ready to go for the next increment and doing some of our own.  An interesting one I got to try out was INSPACE!  Here is the definition:

Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions – 3 (InSPACE-3) obtains data on fluids containing ellipsoid-shaped particles that change the physical properties of the fluids in response to magnetic fields. InSPACE-3 studies the fundamental behavior of magnetic colloidal fluids under the influence of various magnetic fields. Observations of the microscopic structures yields a better understanding of the interplay of magnetic, surface, repulsion forces, and particle shape between particles in
magnetically responsive fluids. These fluids are classified as smart materials which transition to a solid-like state by the formation and cross-linking of microstructures in the presence of a magnetic field. On Earth, these materials are used for vibration damping systems that can be turned on or off. This technology has promise to improve the ability to design structures, such as bridges and buildings, to better withstand earthquake forces.

Or as our lead flight director called it: reversing entropy…cool stuff, dude!

Aki started to be a test subject for the experiment called Energy.  It is a European study of what really does happen to our bodies up here and how do we actually metabolize food.  The bottom line is do we need more calories than on earth, or do we need less calories on earth.  Subjectively you could argue this either way – we have had this conversation onboard.  I think I eat more up here than on earth, but if you don’t eat up here, you lose weight – what is being lost and gained.  Hopefully Aki’s body will help us figure it out.  In the meantime, for the ‘experiment” he had to sit still without sleeping for 4 hours, endure assorted intervals of breathing on rebreather type equipment to measure his gas exchange, drink specific water with a certain tracer in it, pee in a bag sort of on demand (difficult stuff seriously) and then eat a certain diet – I will get to that in the Food section.

In the meantime check him out in Walrus face above.

This week was pretty standard, but the weights are probably close to my maximum now.  I got a lot of critiques from our Strength and Conditioning folk – Bruce! that I’m not getting low enough on my squats and my deadlifts need to be more upright – well, that is what happens, just like on earth, when you get close to the maximum you can lift.  I’m not saying I can’t increase, but I am at that point where I need to repeat the weight until I can do it correctly.  As a result we are going to level off and work on form – just like you do on earth.  However, when I look at my “card” I am impressed on how much stronger I am than when I first started though.  Part of that is getting used to the equipment, but part of it is just getting stronger.  I am up to squatting 200 lbs and deadlifting 210 lbs.  This is all relative, but my initial squat was only 145 lbs and deadlift of 150 lbs.  So, there has definitely been some increase!  I am feeling “dense” in the bone category!!! Yeah!

Really – no kidding, always is interesting up here!  So, I mentioned Energy, the experiment that Aki is doing.  Well, just like the Nutrition experiment, the researchers need to know exactly what you are putting into your body.  So Aki had a European menu for a day.  Get a load of this food:
Swordfish Riviera style
Semolina cake with dried apricots
Apple fondant pieces
Tomato, aubergine and olive dip
Duck breast confit with capers
Salmon with candied menton lemon
Shredded chicken parmentier
Cheese cake
And can you believe it is called eXtreme Pleasure…

see X food above.
Only one day of Extreme Pleasure and then back to food we “normally” eat on the Station.  There is quite a selection up here like I have mentioned before.  This evening Aki was eating Japanese Mackerel, and then had Salmon and vegetable stew with miso and butter, plus cut boiled kelp.  Keeping in the ethnic tradition, tore up some chipotle bread and put it in my split pea soup – it totally tasted like Dal Dokri.  Then I had a package of Dal Bukhara and rice.  You know how some food remind you of places, well this Sunday afternoon Indian food totally reminded me of when we were kids in Needham – after Indian lunch watching football and doing homework. To add to that trip down memory lane, we just got the Patriots game turned on, and I am writing this email/homework – waiting for a Dragon launch!

General thoughts and questions:
So you saw the bathroom – note the number 1 and number 2 thing are NOT together.  This does cause an issue for us with a certain anatomy…it is a little difficult to do one without the other – try it at home – and here it is difficult to do one with the other…gravity  and a large seat are both good things on earth when doing this business!  Note all the different toilet paper on the wall – many needs…some rough to get stuff off, some soft to attach nicely and put in place, some wet wipes to clean things up, some disinfectant wipes that are needed at times, and some plastic gloves because you end up pushing the bag of poop down into other bags of poop.  All of this is vacuum assisted, but not like your shop vac, more like a broken, old vac. On a space walk, number two would not be pleasant.  Sure, it is possible, but really – how could you not think about it – it doesn’t dry up like pee does.  This takes the word exploration to a new level…
And Peter…keep those questions coming!!!!

Happy Birthday this week – You guys are going to have to tell me who is coming up.  I know some for later in the month, but the first week????
Belated from September – Happy Birthday Sasha

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s

Week 11 – Never a Dull Moment

Hey there Everyone!!!!

Never a dull moment up here…just when we thought things were going swimmingly, something seems to not go right.  But you know, that is price of business on an extremely complicated vehicle, coordinating with thousands of people all around the world, who all don’t speak the same languages.  Well, this really came to a head on Tuesday evening when we were “supposed” to free Eduardo Amaldi, the European Transfer Vehicle, from the hooks of the Russian segment.  Last email explained a little about him and we were all anxious to get him loaded, close the hatch and free him – but he didn’t want to let go!

I mentioned how complicated the ISS is, and this vehicle in particular is very complicated when it comes to controlling it.  ATV is actually run out of Toulouse, France.  In addition, while those people are monitoring the vehicles health and status and getting ready to command it, there is a set of Russians controllers, and a very nice (and pretty) German lady, Laura Winterling, who represents the European Space Agency, in Mission Control Moscow to monitor and control the actual undocking – since it uses a Russian docking port. The reason I bring all this up, is because it is funny and interesting that a Russian cosmonaut and a Japanese astronaut were also monitoring from the ISS with procedures in Russian and English and reporting back in English. Then the Russian controller was reporting back in English…while the vehicle controllers in Toulouse were listening to English, but surely working in French…and all the while the American flight control team in Houston was watching the ISS status – remember it too has to do stuff, like feather solar arrays, get to into free drift itself to be able to “let go” of a vehicle…all in English:

ATV Boys


I even got lost writing all this stuff – so it is no wonder that these vehicles even work right when all is good.  Just so happened that on Tuesday evening a command did not get sent from Toulouse to the ISS to allow the ATV to send it’s command – this was an “inhibit” which during docked phase of the flight should not be “enabled” so the vehicle can NOT become un-hooked.  However, when wanting to undock, the inhibit is lifted…usually…
This was all figured out pretty quickly, but not before all these people on the ground had to have a meeting or two (or probably 100) about it and figure out how it happened and how to prevent it in the future.  It wasn’t a hardware problem and that is good, so we knew we could get Eduardo undocked.  After some discussions, which included the possibility of us doing a DAM (debris avoidance maneuver) on Thursday because of our proximity to some space junk, it was decided to undock Eduardo on Friday.  That went exactly as planned!  Wheeew!



Now, I don’t want to jinx us…but I have to comment on the Japanese small satellite deploy.  That was supposed to be on Thursday but with ATV not undocked the control team decided to delay the deploy.  So, all looks good for the satellite deploy to be this upcoming week.  What is really cool about that is that it is scheduled (by happenstance) to be on the 4th of October, the 55th anniversary of Sputnik!  It is amazing how much can change in 50 years – the first satellite launched from earth 55 years ago and now we are getting ready to launch satellites from an orbiting space station with international crews from around the world.  Pretty cool!
By the way, do you guys know what the word Sputnik means?  To many of us, it is the name of a satellite.  But in Russian it describes something that is around another thing.  A person can be described as a sputnik – like “my sputnik” – one that revolves around another (gorby and me for example…).

Geo Quiz:
Okay, I take back what I said last time – maybe you guys need to go back to geography class…only 1 submission and thankfully it was correct.  Congratulations Ken Kostel for correctly identifying Denver Colorado.  I know there are some of you out there, who the hints apply to, that didn’t get their home town….Carol, Eric, Marie, Mike, Eva, Eric, Mona, Lily!!!  I think you must be keeping these pictures from Sejal and Shay because they would have recognized their hometown!  Just kidding, you know – but thought you’d like to see what your mountain-side city looked like from space.  Just thinking of all of you last week!

This week’s quiz is costal so maybe a little more identifiable…please give it a shot, at least you people who consider yourselves part of the Naval Service.  It is sometimes referred to as the “cradle…”.  Good luck!

The next picture, Wake Island, is just included because I love it, and with the help of a group at JSC who predicts our path and weather along our path and asks us to take pictures for them, guided us to this very remote little island.  What I love about it is that part of the island looks like a sea turtle to me – can you see it?

Things we did this week:
I mentioned ATV above so I don’t have to talk about him too much.  Just one funny thing related to him.  Docking and undocking times are not our choice.  They have to do with orbital mechanics, meaning when these space craft will come together or how the engineers calculate the engine burns at what times, for how long, based on how much fuel to land or dock at a certain time and place.  These folks who do all these calculations tell us when these vehicles need to be ready.  So we just do the stuff we have to do to make sure the vehicles are ready at those times.   That meant a late Tuesday, eventually Friday undocking.  Our workday starts around 7am, so working until midnight would be mean a very, very, very long day.  To compensate for that, we took a “nap” in the middle of the day so we could stay awake for the undocking.  Of course, you know that we are all about acronyms, so we started  calling it a N.A.P. or “natural adaptation procedure.”  Amazingly enough, it really worked.  After about 3 hours of hard sleep, all three of us were up and ready to go.  It even felt like morning again as Aki and I enjoyed a “second” cup of coffee.  We did that again on Friday night so this week has sort of felt like we have had 7 mornings in 5 days.  Needless to say, sleeping in on Saturday morning was very nice!

Thinking we were going to launch the Japanese Small satellites this week, Aki got them all ready.  I have started to call the Japanese module Aki’s playroom – he always has his “toys” out and is playing in there!

Aki’s Toys

The satellites are pretty cool.  The plan is for the two canisters to be deployed individually.  One of them has 3 satellites in it and one has 2.  Aki will deploy the first canister by commands inside the ISS.  The Japanese control team will deploy the other canister by commands from the Tskuba where the Japanese control center is.  Also on this pallet which the Japanese robotic arm will grab and point down and away from the ISS is a “message in a bottle”.  It is a metal bottle with a valve on it which will open in space, essentially releasing air and then be “filled” with the vacuum of space.  It will reseal, and then come back inside.  Sort of cool to think about, filling with vacuum, or emptying air…by the way, this airlock reminds me of the sleep stations in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper…see even two can fit:

This week we also did a little maintenance on the ISS that has been waiting to be done for quite some time – I love this stuff, using tools and getting “dirty!”  First was the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly (CDRA).  This is a system of chemical beds and valves.  The chemical beds soak up the CO2 and a complicated system of valves connected to vacuum, vent and release to remove the CO2 from the beds to vacuum.  The system is very compact actually and fits in ½ of a “rack”.  So, working on this thing is like working on the engine of Hyundai – very closely fitting connectors for the valves.  We actually changed out three valves and to do that Aki and I needed to climb into the rack to access these parts.  We were definitely the right crew for this task!  See in the rack:

Second , maintenance which just continues and continues is working with the system which turns pee back into water.  It isn’t really maintenance per say, but just regular changing of filters, etc. to keep the system up and working.  In this particular procedure we offloaded the end result of the multi-filtering process, “urine slurry”, into a container.  After a couple weeks there is a tank full of this stuff which cannot be broken down anymore.  We need to pull that out of the system so the system can continue to work and not get “stopped” up by this stuff.  We have a pretty neat system of a pump which simply pushes air around a flexible bladder inside the tank to squish the pee out and into another tank that also has a flexible bladder.  That second tank we just open a relief valve for the air around the tank so the tank can expand.  This way the pee never gets in contact with the pump – we just pump air around to move the fluid, since we can’t just “pour” the yucky stuff out!

And thirdly we worked on the ARED, advance resistive exercise device – our weight lifting machine.  It has canisters which contain vacuum – we push against this vacuum as a resistance to “lift” weights.  These original aluminum canisters have outlived their lift cycle of 1 million uses this week!  Nothing failed, just time to change them out with brand new steel canisters.  Like being the plumber and the electrician up here, we are also our own gym monkeys who use, take care of and fix the gym equipment. It was nice to be able to work out on the ARED the same day we replaced these canisters – very nice design – slick and easy.  This machine can provide up to 600lbs of force with these vacuum cylinders and that is plenty to hurt my butt with squats!


This week we also did some of the medical tests that I have described before including Integrated Cardio Vascular with ultrasound and ProK.  A new twist on ICV was that we not only took resting heart ultrasound, but we also we took heart ultrasound while we were exercising!   On the bike, we kept our heart rate above 120bpm and used the ultrasound to see the heart working – it seemed a little easier to see the chambers and valves since the heart was pretty active squeezing and twisting!  I found it easier to scan myself since I could feel my heart beating, while Aki worked the ultrasound machine.  Of course we have our awesome “remote guider” on the ground, David who walks us thru the specific scans needed for the science so we get the correct pictures.  One theory is that the heart shrinks in space since it is a muscle and it doesn’t have to work as hard to overcome gravity pumping blood around the body.  I am hoping my heart hasn’t shrunk with all the high heart rate running and cycling I have been doing.  We will see!
With ProK this week I eat the “low animal protein” version.  That meant a lot more food than the “high animal protein” version, so I was stuffed all week.  It included a bunch of almonds, which really gets to be sickening after a while…feeling quite full of nuts!  Of course it concluded with a 24 hour urine collection – lots of donations so far, and then a blood draw on the last morning.

In preparation for SPACEX we got to do “offset grapples” with the real robotic arm.  We practiced with the arm being not lined up on the grapple fixture to “fly” in toward the grapple pin fixing the “offsets” imitating the SPACEX vehicle drifting slowly after it stops holding position “actively” with jets – it may drift a little.  Of course we have a video game inside in which we can really put in some video motion of the SPACEX vehicle.  But you can’t get away without feeling and knowing it is a video game.  So, this practice with the real arm, on a real module puts that “real fear” of messing up in you. It is really a good way to get some real “hands on sticks” time before the real vehicle gets here!!!!  We get to do this again next week and actually “actuate” the snares. So, I will take pictures of that exercise for the next email.  Pretty fun!

Speaking of video games, this week we reviewed what we would do for an emergency descent in the Soyuz.  We got to hear and talk to our Soyuz instructor Dima in Moscow Mission Control as we reviewed all the procedures in case we had to abandon the ISS and head to our Soyuz.  Then we used a laptop simulator to practice “flying” the Soyuz descent capsule if the descent automatic system didn’t work.  It is a potential energy/kinetic energy tradeoff as we “glide” into earth using Gforces and distance from the ideal landing spot as grading criteria.  This little gumdrop shaped capsule doesn’t float that well –

– our desks in space are a little different than the ones in room 208.  We just need some Velcro and a strap.

Aki was back in his play room for an experiment called Nanosteps.  Seems like everything Japanese is “cute.”  This little experiment concentrates on processes like protein crystal grown – not necessarily the outcome, but trying to understand the process.  This is a cute little box with red and white wires…I was worried when I first saw him fiddling with this box…”cut the red wire, but first…”

One thing that has many people on the ground a little worried is an RPCM…Essentially a circuit breaker.  One of them in the lab doesn’t work quite right.  It is important because it happens to be the one which powers our backup Robotics workstation and we need this backup for SPACEX to come to us in another week or so.  We changed this circuit breaker probably about 5 times in the last week trying to get a new one to work – no luck so far.  So, we are wondering what IS the problem?!?!?!  Maybe software, not sure.  Lots of smart people on the ground are working on this…more to follow on this one!

Working out is fun, but certainly gets tiring without a break!  Last time I was up here, we used the premise that one needs to workout everyday, because we can’t escape the idea that there is no gravity, so every day we are losing bone density and muscle mass.  That is true, but this time around with the heavy weights and the sprint workouts, my legs are getting tired.  The goals for working out are bone cardio vascular and for bone density/muscle mass maintenance.  I am hoping that the soreness in the muscles means that they have been exerted enough to allow for the days off.  Actually, we won’t see the results of bone density until we get home with the Dexascan.  But in the meantime, we test our muscle mass in our legs with and ultrasound of the certain muscles.  Likewise we test our cardiac output with the Max VO2 test.  I have shown pictures of this before, all wired up, breathing thru an apparatus that measures O2 usage (noseclip on so no cheating!).  I had another Max VO2 test this week and it seems like my heart is holding it’s own!

ProK – so lots of food like I talked about.  I was thinking about this and what we are trying to do and all this science makes sense.  So, the idea is that when we eat a diet high in animal protein, the process of breaking this down results in a more acidic by product. The body compensates for this by adding more base – calcium.  So, it is essentially accelerating the bone density loss to provide some base to neutralize here in space.  The low animal protein diet doesn’t create as high an acid content, hence a smaller requirement for calcium to act as a base.  During this diet we took our urine pH every morning as well as taking urine and blood samples that will be analyzed later.  I did see the pH tend toward neutral during this diet – so I am betting this premise is true.  We will see – but in the meantime, we have to eat a lot more food to get the same amount of protein…lots of nuts!  Not sure I could eat like that every day.  But luckily on earth, gravity is there to help regenerate that bone density by constantly putting weight on us.  I guess that is why we look the way we look and why our skeleton forms the way it does.  Gravity dictates who and what we are!
So, now I am off that diet, Sunday afternoon – time for a Fluffernutter!  Not sure if you could even consider it protein.  And yummy almonds – I think I can stomach these almonds!

General thoughts and questions:
So it has been over 2 months since our crew has been here.  The “real” effects of space are starting to take hold!  We all feel really adapted and it is easy to just float in one place without flailing around.  You can hold yourself in one place with nothing or just a toe at this point!  Speaking of feet, it is that time of the increment that one’s feet really start shedding.  All those years of calluses are coming off.  It is sort of gross that dry, dead skin is coming off pretty much all the time for a bit, but my pedicurist is going to be really happy next time I stop in…It reminds me of how when we were babies our skin was so soft, how soft and pink Gorby’s little paws were…earth and gravity make us walk around and get rough feet – another very interesting concept!
Another thought on adaptation is the feeling of up and down here, in the space station.  You know we built this thing with the lights all on the ceiling  corners, between the port and starboard walls and the overhead.  That way everyone would have a reference.  The words and numbers on the walls are all oriented in this manner as well.  So, that gives everyone a perspective of up and down even though there really isn’t one.  We feel like we would fall down into the module that sticks down from the main hallway of the station.  The main hallway feels horizontal.  Until you go into a module that does stick up or down from the main stack – then the lights in it are on the wall.  Your brain can quickly translate that vertical sensation to horizontal…If the lights were not all on the ceiling, this would be an entirely different place, although the same…

Happy Birthday last week and this week – Geesh – it is October already!  How did that happen?  Happy birthday to all those September babies I forgot.  I know there are more out there…but ones I know for sure are:
My nephew Parth
JD Cook
Donna Rodgers
Marco de Miguel Miras – just born last week!

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s