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


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