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

Monitoring

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!

Going

Gone

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!

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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!

Exercise:
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!

Food:
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

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