Week 17 – Packing

Hi Everyone!!!

Now it is time to start thinking about coming home.  Up to this point I haven’t, and sort of denied it.  And, I am still in denial, but I am going thru the motions because I don’t want to forget something when the hatch closes…so just in case we really do have to go home in a week, we are preparing.
Space is just really cool.  Have I said that before, or have I said that enough yet????  I love it here, just like most folks who get to come here.  It is just so cool how we adapt and become so comfortable up here.  You can be standing one moment and just with a little effort flip upside down and be hanging – “look ma’, no hands!!!!”  It is just an amazing place to be.  Not to mention the view…why would anyone want to leave????

So, you might ask what do you have to pack?  It is a little like the airlines, we do have a  baggage limit, but slightly less – only 1.5 kg in the Soyuz.  That is only like 3.5 lbs, so not much.  We all brought that much personal stuff up here, so we know pretty much how big and how much mass we can take back – essentially the same stuff we brought up comes back down with us in the Soyuz.

Remember we don’t pack our clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. That stuff is all here when we arrive.  Even our special shirts and cargo pants are waiting here for us.  But, this is our personal stuff, so no one else will want it.  We need to sort thru our stuff and decide what stuff needs to be thrown away or as we say put into “Common Trash”.  I have worn essentially one pair of pants this entire trip, and one pair of shorts.  I have an additional pair of pants, but they are beige/white.  I feel a little like Chevy Chase in Caddyshack when I wear them – sort of like golf pants – so I only wear them for Public Relations events.  We don’t get “dirty” up here with dirt, but we are working on equipment and will drinks, sometimes there are little stains that get on your clothes – white isn’t good for that.  Additionally, we don’t do laundry up here – we just get new stuff and “throw away” the old stuff.  We don’t need to change our clothes as much as we do on the ground – not really anyone up here to impress, and “smell-ivision” has not been invented yet…just kidding, Kevin did tell me that we didn’t smell though when he arrived.  We really only get “stinky” in our PT gear and that we change out about weekly.

So, back to packing – I have some stuff, like my yoyo, my crew notebook with pictures, my specialty t-shirts I had sent up, my family photo album (well, really Gorby’s photo album) – you know, very important stuff!  I also have a number of dog tags which need to be returned to their rightful owners – FOGs (Friends of Gorby’s), our Soyuz instructor, Dima’s dog tag (also a FOG), some toys, some jewelry, a couple bandanas (Freddy!), and some patches from Mike and my helicopter squadrons.  So, I need to make sure everything is in order!  It is funny that your life actually boils down to these little things – really, think about it.  Not much more is really important than the people (animals included here), places and memories you have!

Geo Quiz:
Congratulations to Carolyn Pascucci who was dead on when she mentioned Vegas!  Glitter town USA, no wonder it is our mom’s favorite place…It is amazing that in the middle of the desert this boom town came to life.  It really is in the middle of nowhere, with some of the most amazing Canyon lands all around it.  From Bryce and Zion to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff – it really is an outdoors wonderland.  We need to go visit Jim and Betty there again!

With the orbits lately, we have found ourselves illuminated most of the time.  We have been essentially paralleling the “terminator” for the week.  We have had some nice passes over some other areas of the planet which I haven’t had for geo quiz’s.  This particular place should look very familiar to our dad – I think he was a beach bum here!


Things we did this week:
This week was full of stuff…and of course it was fun because we are in space!  It doesn’t get better than that, even when all your computers don’t work and the toilet gets really broken…

Being high tech and stuff, we have tried to go paperless as much as possible up here on the ISS.  This is great and GREEN, but everything sort of comes to a screeching halt when the computer system which provides you with all the information about your schedule and activities dies.  This happened bright and early Tuesday morning and put a little damper on our activities.  Luckily enough, all the workout equipment kept on plugging along for the most part so we were able to buy back a little time by working out for a while, while the PLUTOs (computer guys) worked their magic on our systems.  It took the better part of the day with a little help from us for them to reload the hard drives of two of our main servers.  We do the hardware stuff and they can do all the software configurations from the ground.  In the meantime, we were able to get on the plan by being sent up oncey, twocy procedures.  It is interesting to see how vulnerable we are to these types of problems.  I know the folks on the ground were scrambling to get all of our systems working again – and that meant email and phone as well…

Another “little issue” that arose this week was weak batteries. Again something quite essential for life, but again – like the toilet – we take for granted. The Makita batteries are needed to “run” a pump for the ICV experiment. That is the one that has the blood pressure – cardiac output  – cuffs on your fingers. So we can be mobile, the batteries were the power source that was selected. Now, we have had a Makita on the ISS for quite some time for assembling of stuff – like xmas gifts, etc.  (just kidding) – and, the batteries are old. We have been having a difficult time getting the batteries to hold a charge – so we needed to do some charge, discharge cycles. Well, again, taking things for granted – – the charging cycle didn’t quite work as planned. But we determined that probably we have a bad charger piece that needed replacing and luckily enough we have enough stuff onboard for an entire second set. We put that together and for the most part we have charged batteries now. However, these somewhat simple things can make or break a pretty complicated experiment if they are not working quite right. I mention these things, because it is the simple, easy things that always seem to come back and eat your lunch, take all the time, cause the frustrations, etc. We don’t have Auto Zone or Home Depot around the corner to resupply us. We need to anticipate, plan and be self-sustainable if we are going beyond low earth orbit one day. I’m not sure we are there quite yet.

And the big thing that was not working quite right this week was the toilet. Kevin promised us hot food, cold drinks and a toilet after our EVA – remember, we got 2 of 3. The toilet was broken since last weekend, but we limped along, essentially peeing in a bucket until we had time and a plan to fix it. We changed out practically every part in that thing system. The KTO, or number two function of our toilet was working fine. It was just really the Urine Processing part. We really need to make sure the right balance of Pee to chemicals is put into the system to make sure the downstream components, which turn that pee back into drinking water don’t fail. So, in general, we could pee, we were just worried about the “product” going into the urine processing system with an unknown water/chemical balance. As a result, the water valves, all plumbing, 2 sensors and finally the water pump were all changed out. In the meantime – we used the Russian toilet – all 6 using one toilet is rough! It was like a revolving door down there!!!!  In the end, we changed out the “pretreat” tank too! – and now the yellow goes where it is supposed to at the correct chemical composition! See Kevin putting together the urine tanks and me holding them (space hasn’t been that good to me…)


So, Aki, Yuri and I fit – that is a good thing – in both our Sokol suits and our Soyuz.  You know we grow up here so there is always a question about if we will really fit.  In space your spine expands so you grow.  The cartilage between the vertebrae don’t have the pressure of gravity on them so they expand and hence, you grow.  I did notice this in fact when we were getting our suits on.  I had to lengthen all the straps to get my head thru the opening.  It was a little tight, but all worked out fine.  Another impression I had was wow – that Soyuz is small. It felt big when we flew up here and even roomy. But now, after living in this grand hotel, that little thing seems tiny!  Actually, after I nestled my way into my seat – you don’t just sit in space, you have to get held down, and that seat is actually like being in the fetal position, so you have to tighten your belts, nestle down, tighten some more, nestled down, etc until you are all the way in there – it felt pretty good. Of course, your knees are in your chest, so maybe a Motrin would be a good idea since we will be like that for a number of hours…Regardless of these strange sensations, the Soyuz automatically felt like home. We all know what we need to do in there – the training is that good I think – that you don’t really think to much about it. You just know what to do. I love our little Agat!

See sexy outfit – that is our “G” suit called Kentavr.  Then Dancing clothes (our underwear), then ready and do the shuffle!


Aki went fishing this week!  Anyone who has had an aquarium knows there is a lot to do with fish! An aquarium needs tending, so Aki and Kevin worked on water testing – making sure the pH and minerals were all good.  They had to transport some of the fish from the tank to another place, which in itself was a challenge if you can imagine in a micro gravity environment – how do you grab them and hold water???  By trying to move them with a syringe water is also displaced and bubbles come in.  Like before, bubbles are not good for fish – they can’t breathe in a bubble, so then the bubbles had to be removed with another syringe and water added to the vessel.  Pretty labor intensive.  This is a great engineering challenge and we are learning quite a bit from all this.  Again, the easy things, like bubbles, seem to turn out to be not so easy!

We had our last round of Integrated Cardio Vascular (ICV) testing this week.  Our hearts are ready to come home…the physical ones at least.  A part of my emotional heart will always be with this space station and the sweat and tears that have made it happen.  We will get to wear the holter monitor and the cardio press again before we know it – on the way home in fact from Kazakhstan after landing.  As our time here is coming to an end, the tests are building and landing on top of one another.  Here I am wearing the cardio press and holter monitor as I am self-sticking myself and taking my blood and urine samples for the ProK diet.  Lots going on and I am learning to do lots of these things essentially one handed – to include sticking a needle in your arm and switching out sample tubes, peeping in a bag while holding a pH test strip, putting samples on the freezer without getting your cardio press finger cuffs stuck on the freezer bag Velcro…never and obstacle, always a challenge!  Loving it!


Another big science week for our eyes too!  We had 3 big eye tests this week.  This is only the second time Aki and I have done these tests, and a first for Kevin.  I think if there are signs that your eyes are getting worse, you might be asked to do these tests more frequently.  I think we talked about all these tests a while back on the first round.  So, some folks have had serious vision issues in the past.  Part of that can possibly be attributed to increase cranial pressure.  So, beside a general eye exam, we use a Panoptic machine – the same thing essentially that the doctor looks in your ears with and up your nose – to look thru the cornea and pupil to the see the blood vessels and the Optic  Nerve!  Check it out – this is cool, but a little tough to do to ourselves.  Thankfully we work with “remote guiders” on the ground who help us out with this task and the eye Ultrasound.  Another very interesting test – here we just use water as a media, no gel required since surface tension keeps the water nicely on the eye.  Here we are looking at our cornea, shape of the eyeball and the optic nerve.  Very cool stuff to see.  Finally we perform an eye Tonometer test on each other where we poke at each other’s eyes to read the “pressure” at the eye.  If it is essentially the same as during the ground testing then we are doing fine.  In simple terms this all makes sense – there is a known fluid shift in the body in space.  Of course everyone’s heads get bigger with this fluid shift – but the head can only get so big because of the cranium.  But if more and more fluid goes in there, something is going to get squished – and the optic nerve just might be the thing that is getting squished – hence changes in vision.  We don’t know for sure if this is what is happening, but it seems to make sense, and if some people are susceptible to this change, the consequences could be bad if they can’t see correctly.

See scaryeye and eye ultra above.

It surely isn’t all work and no play up here – we finished off the week with a couple pretty fun events.  First, I had the opportunity to see INSIDE the Patriot’s locker room and talk to the owner, Robert Kraft and a couple of the players!

That was pretty neat and they seemed psyched that people are watching their every move from space – and yes, thank God they beat the Bills today – why do they have to make it close every time???

Secondly, we were able to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the birth of the Deputy Operations Russia, Mark VanDeHei with him and all the folks In Star city who we know and love there – Alla, Larissa, Galya, Ania, Yuri G.,  Yuri S., Ephim, Vadim, Klinky, Sasha (Sasha V was missing or I didn’t see him).  That was really great, except we didn’t get to enjoy Ephim’s soup, Shurpa  – we need smell-i-vision for that!!!!!

Finally, the young boys, Oleg and Evgeny, are trying to leave a good impression and are at the 3 week point with “excessively” long hair.  A haircut was a must!  Kevin bagged out today, but will meet up with them at the next haircut.  Now, Aki, Yuri and I, well – we have a different “style” I guess.  I trimmed Aki’s hair today – it was getting long up top.  Yuri and I are going “au natural” until we get back.  Not that we don’t trust each other, but rather at this point, we’ll see who will have a ponytail first!

See us and them above!

Exercise:
LAST treadmill Kinematics!!!!
As I was finishing up this week of exercises, sprints and lifting, I was a little shocked that this WILL be the last round of all these exercises up here.  Relief is one way to describe it, but in regards to exercise I would really say satisfaction.  I really felt like Aki and I have given this protocol our all – it hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been fun – but I really believe it has worked us hard.  The proof will be in the pudding when we get home – so just one more set and we will see!

Food:
LAST ProK diet!!!!  That meant the last blood and urine samples happened this past weekend.  No more yellow and red popsicles from me!
So, today I did some food rearranging and I see I have 5 more Bonus containers that haven’t even been touched…I can’t eat all this food we have up here.  I am thinking to cherry pick a couple of things out of them – and really have a feast this week.  Why not!  Every day a new pair of underwear, everyday a special snack from our bonus containers!!!!  Tonight we even tried the smoked oysters I had…yuck.  Not highly recommended.  I think I saw garlic mashed potatoes in one of the containers.  I will report next weekend…
Finally, we have a lot of Chocolate too.  So, I am totally getting into this habit I had in Russia when I was working on Russian flight books way back around 2000 – chocolate and tea around 3pm every day!  That is a nice combo!  Try it for a pick me up!

General thoughts and questions:
So, it is all a matter of attitude!  Everyone has one, like an opinion.  Sometimes they are the same, sometimes they are different.  Whenever I get to do something really fun and great – like climbing a mountain in Maine, New Hampshire or Tanzania, sailing in the Caribbean, riding an elephant in India, kayaking in Alaska or living here in space, I think to myself, I can’t wait to do that again. For some reason it rarely occurs to me that I may never get to do this again. (Only once here have I had THAT feeling and that was when I was coming back toward the airlock after our last spacewalk, wondering if I would ever get that view again – maybe you noticed, I actually stopped talking for a little while to just take in the view). One thing our dad always taught us was to “stop and take a look at the foliage.”  That is sage advice, and I would add to that, take it all in, promise yourself you will be back, even if it is just in your mind! ISS – I will be back.

Happy Birthday and thanks to everyone out there whose birthdays I have missed and who I haven’t said thank you to enough! I get swallowed up and lost in dates and times periodically. No offense to anyone – just my mistake.  Particularly, Mary Louise, I know I missed yours in October, sorry.

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s

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