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:
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!!!!
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!
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!
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.
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…
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.
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
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