Week 18 – Change Acitivites

Hi Everyone!!!

Well, we are essentially packed – we even put away our Harry Potter glasses…(medical glasses to adjust for ANY vision changes with one pair of glasses, too bad they look dorky

-(see Gandhi and Tolstoy above) and all our other “stuff”.  Our sleeping bags go in the Soyuz tomorrow and that should be the last of our packing!

It is time to concentrate on the next task at hand – operating, working and riding in our Soyuz! It is amazing how you can automatically re-prioritize – then next task is at upon us so the mind set has to change to leaving ISS safely and landing on earth safely.  To do this we checked out our Soyuz and fired its thrusters to make sure everything was working and had our last training session with our instructors on descent.  It is time to start getting ourselves prepared for the journey.  This week I really felt like it was time to change focus.  We had some maintenance stuff to do to make sure our ship is in good shape to hand over to Kevin and his crew. They will be here for 5 weeks as a crew of 3, so we wanted to make sure she is in tip top shape.

With the change of command ceremony on Saturday, our time on the ISS has really come to an end and our focus is on descent!  I promise to write one more email after this one to tell you how all went and what my first impressions of EARTH are.  Last time I landed in the summer in the desert of California, in a space shuttle.  This time it will be winter on the steppes of Kazakhstan in a gumdrop shaped capsule!  I have a feeling I already know which one will be bumpier…

Geo Quiz:
Who knew LA knew where India was!!!!  Not only that, he knew and correctly Identified Gulf of Kutch.  This of course is the western part of the state of Gujarat where our dad is from.  Jay, Dina and I have been lucky enough to have been there as kids when we went  to visit our relatives.   Who knew that since the time of our visit, we have transitioned from the old “airmail” envelopes to email!  I am honored to have people from all over this beautiful planet on this email distribution – the world is small, but still quite grand!

This last geography quiz is for our mom and her relatives.  Mom’s are always right and always have the last word, so appropriately this last one is for her!  This is also a very beautiful place which Jay, Dina and I have visited as adults.  Some hints – Crystal clear lakes and sea, mountains and hills, famous white horses, amazing caves, fun wine and lots and lots of sausages!!!!  (answer will be at the bottom of this email).

Things we did this week to try to make life better for Kevin , Oleg and Evgeny…

CDRA – Carbon dioxide removal assembly – we taught Kevin how to “climb” in to the rack and work on these valves.   We finally fixed a long time leaky valve using an Ultra Sound Detection device which we have onboard to find leaks in the vehicle if we have some sort of depressurization event.  It worked and we found our leaky valve, tightened her up and after a couple hours of testing she is up and working!!!!

See in the rack above.*****

T2 – the treadmill named COLBERT, after Stephen Colbert – combined load bearing resistive device – got it’s yearly and semi-annual maintenance done to include using a grease gun.  Now that is fun and maybe Mike will let me play with his version of this in his garage now that I have greased a space treadmill – NOT.  Anyway, she was all fixed, but her software got corrupted somehow.  So we ended up doing “brain surgery”.  We tapped into her “brain”, the CLU, logic unit, and now the ground is reprogramming her.  It sounds very spacey when I use words like that…

see grease monkey above.  Because we needed to get into the brain of the T2 it isn’t working.  So, in the meantime we have been using

our old friend (above), the Russian’s TVIS, Treadmill Vibration Isolation System.  This was the ONLY treadmill we had when I was here last time.  This is the one I ran the Boston Marathon on!

WAPs – We got to install new Wireless Access Points.  These things look war hardened.  They are pretty big and bulky, but man they work well.  We needed an upgrade and we got one.  Now even the iPads onboard are working like a charm.  Life is getting better and better and more modern by the moment!!!

Things we did this week to make sure we are ready for THE RIDE home…

We finished up our last medical tests up here this week to include one last scan of our leg muscles.  Aki, Yuri and I worked out until Saturday.  Sunday is sleep in day and rest day.  We will be back on the planet within 24 hours so gravity can take over then.  Enough for up here!

Since we actually do have to get the vehicle separated from the ISS and we have to actually get the vehicle ready to do its deorbit burn – it is not all automatic, we really did do some practice.  Remember we got tested on all of this stuff about 5 months ago.  I am really happy that testing was very thorough.  I feel like we are ready and know what to do.  If it is anything like the training it will be fun.  We actually did some manual descent practice too on the simulator.  I love my little hand written notes – they have done me well – I got all 5.0s!!!  Thanks Dima!

Things we did this week one  last time this week…
I was lucky enough to talk about what we do with kids in Gujarat, India!  Remember that was last week’s geo quiz!  I got to talk to kids from my dad’s home state in India.  Thank you so much Ken Ransom for getting that set up.  The kids were psyched – you could hear it in their voice.  The Indian accent is one Jay, Dina and I are very familiar with (I never knew what dad was saying when he would say “devel – up” develop, when we were kids) so that helped when I was listening to them talking very fast in English!  I couldn’t help but smile listening to their cheerful voices!!!!!!

See ham with Gujarat above.

Speaking of kids, Kevin and I had a talk with kids all over the US in a Public Relations event at the Smithsonian in DC.  My Penguin classmate Leland Melvin was there with the Secretary of Education!  We talked to kids from all over thru a virtual connection.  I heard there were thousands of kids piped in!  Very cool!

Tradition –
Saturday night and it is the “Change of Command Ceremony!”  Like everything up here – it was even fun!  I really don’t like these formal things when I have to talk about stuff.  I don’t like getting too serious, and I get sort of emotional when it comes to this business.  I really believe in it and what we are doing.  I love the fact that we are all up here together from such different places – Yuri from the Ukraine, Aki from Japan, Kevin from Indiana, Oleg from Belarus, Evgeny from Siberia and me from Boston.  What a diverse group of people and somehow we all find a common ground and find humor in our daily lives together.  Both crews, this one and Expedition 32, have shown that folks from such different lives, perspectives, cultures, religions can easily be really productive when working together!  Think of all the possibilities with all the different nationalities, cultures and religions all over the world.  Wow – there is a lot of potential there!

See our crew above.
During our ceremony we gave the new crew some gifts to comfort them for the rest of their stay onboard the good ship ISS – Kevin got the Navy command Pennant, Oleg got the honorary Magnum PI shirt (Hawaiian shirt!), and Evgeny got the stuffed Gorby to keep his hippopotamus company! I hope they liked them!

See handover above.
Finally, we “zapped” the ship with our crew’s patch.  Here we are putting it on the US segment.  It is smartly aligned with 32 other crews which have come before us!  I love this patch that Aki designed!!!!

See patch above.

Finishing strong!!!!  I just had my last ARED session.  It felt great!  I was lifting weights I couldn’t just a week ago with no problems. From my Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes..s I am feeling pretty good and strong. The ARED is one of the best machines out there.  I am amazed at how the engineers came up with this great machine for “lifting “ in space.  People don’t believe me.  But I promise you a gun show shot after I land.  Not so bad – I will be ready to get bronzed up for our Caribbean vacation  ARED is probably my favorite machine onboard – we have worked on it, worked out on it – I feel like I have got to know it very well.  I am psyched to see how my bone density is after all this – I should get an idea next week!
One of the interesting things the Russians do along with exercise is a Lower Body Negative Pressure “work out”.  In these funny pants which hold pressure on the lower extremities, they walk in place while Moscow monitors their functions.

Salting up!!!
Getting ready to fill us up with water again.  We run a little dehydrated up here on a regular basis.  That is okay since we really don’t need all the water.  But once we get back to the ground, water is really important.  So, to “help” the process along – we start “fluid loading” a day before we come home.  In fact we will take salt tablets starting Sunday to try to retain water.  You guys know what I am talking about – it is like when you eat a lot of pizza, your hands seem to swell lup a little over night and you need to pee …well that might be because of the beer associated with the pizza.  Who knew bloating and retaining water would ever be good for you!!  Those are usually the side effects that are read really fast at the end of pharmaceutical commercials!
Not sure why we run dehydrated in space – my simple theory is that we are like trees – we need to the water to help support ourselves with gravity. Without gravity, we don’t need that support  and our organs, including our brains, have enough water to function normally.  So, when we come back to earth, getting a jump on the water loading is key.

General thoughts and questions:
Happy birthday to our cousin Carol in Colorado – we’ve come a long way since we all got lost on a mountain top with dad, huh….

Think about it for a moment –
100 years ago or so, we started flying, Girl Scouts were established and the Oreo cookie was invented.
50 years ago or so, the first Satellite was launched,
25 years ago, Aki graduated from high school, I became legal to drink and Yuri became a pilot…
10 years ago or so, the ISS was manned for the first time – people living in space continually now…
Where will we be in 10, 25, 50 or 100 years from now…it is hard to imagine, but I can’t wait to find out!

In the meantime, it is time to go home to planet Earth!  From one Earthling to another, I can’t think of a better planet to be from!

See farewell (the little space craft that kept me alive out there) and the view (typical from cupola).

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space and earth, s


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!

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!

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

Week 16 – Time For a Party

Hi Everyone!!!

Hang in there – soon the political commercials will be over with!  Tuesday will be interesting.  I am sort of glad we don’t get all that stuff up here…only if you want to read about it and I certainly don’t want to spend time in space reading about people bad mouthing each other…In case you were wondering, Kevin and I both voted before we came up here with early voting.  I am active duty military and voted early in the state of Florida.  He voted early in Texas.  There is a way to vote from space if you are a Texas resident, but neither one of us needed to do that.  I am sure Tuesday night will be a late one for many of you down there – get out the popcorn for the show!

Speaking of staying up late and being tired, this past week ended with everyone really ready for some sleep.  We were going to have a party on Friday, even a day AFTER EVA, and we all couldn’t do it. We had to wait until Saturday for the party since Friday evening came and we were all too tired from the week to stay up.  I know it is hard to believe that I would ever opt to sleep rather than party, but let me tell you why.  In my last note I talked about the rest of the Expedition 33 crew arriving and the SPACEX Dragon departing.  Yes, we had some time off after SPACEX departed, but still lots of show and tell for our new compardres, and we had to get ready for a Progress and a spacewalk.  So in summary here is what our schedule looked like:
Thursday, 25 October – Soyuz Crew Arrives
Sunday, 28 October – DRAGON Spacex departs
Wednesday, 31 October  – Progress Arrives
Thursday, 1 November  – EVA
It has been like Grand Central Station up here – no complaints and it is totally exciting.   But honestly, it did get physically tiring switching gears every other day.   On that note, I find it so interesting how the body knows when to rally and keep going, and then when to crater and rest.  We all felt great/fine for this week plus, but by Friday we were ready to crash.  It reminds me of when Dina and I hiked the last 100 miles of the Appalachian trail.  We, and our feet, were fine all the way to the end.  Then, that evening when we took our boots off and finally took a shower, both of us had swollen feet – why that didn’t happen anytime we were out on the trail, I don’t know – the body knew it had to perform and did until it knew it could rest – then the effects of the work were evident.  Same goes with the work up here- when Friday came around, everyone’s switch went off and it was lights out early on the good old ISS.

This week and these events, one after another have really defined a new era for spaceflight to low earth orbit.  It was simply amazing to see the Dragon depart

(see SPACEX depart node 2) and then hear about how the ship had landed in the ocean just 4+ hours later.  Blood, urine and experiment samples all destowed and delivered to NASA the next day!  Amazing!

It was equally amazing to “see” the Progress launch via vapor trails in the atmosphere in the morning, and then by lunchtime, she was docking to the aft port of the ISS!

(see Progress far and Progress near above).  This is the second Progress to do this “accelerated” profile to dock to the ISS in the same day.  This profile is planned to eventually be used for Soyuz vehicles bringing up ISS crew members.  That would be a long day for the crews (it would probably be the equivalent time in the spacesuit as it is for a spacewalk – 9 or so hours.  Diaper needed…), but then they would be here, at the “big hotel” the same day they left the planet.  That could be considered safer, less chance of micrometeorite hit to Soyuz, and more time onboard to work.

Geo Quiz:
Lots of folks were quick to answer the city of Houston Texas – and yes, my Mike lives there too.  That is why Gorby only lives there sometimes…just kidding.  So a big Congratulations goes out to Mike Surber who is in Moscow!  His wife Trish and kids, Brittany and Dustin are in Houston while he is doing “hard time” in Russia!  He is also the one who probably squished those little pieces of hardware that were kicking my butt outside on the spacewalk, called SPDs.  The story I heard was that his suitcase was packed  with those little items and the “kitchen sink”, like my mother’s suitcase, so he had to sit on it to get it closed…just kidding!

This next quiz is a little different – It reminds me that Earth is a planet – not just the place where we live.  It is a changing, forming planet and from our vantage point looks as “foreign” as Mars or any other planet.  One needs to go down there and poke it to see what is going on.  I think I mentioned this once before too, a night flyover of another planet would be good too – just too see that there are “creatures” down there in places that look “empty” in the day time.  This place for example looks pretty empty, but there is a booming town not far away with lots and lots of glitter (mom’s favorite)…

Things we did this week:
This week was full of fun – even though short, lots going on.  I know I am repeating myself a bit by talking about Dragon, but I like noting the similarities and differences with it and the Russian Progress.  Both are cargo vehicles – which are the basis for a crew’d vehicle  – in SPACEXs future most likely, and Soyuz for Progress.  Both vehicles fly automatically to a point outside the docking ports and then things are a little different.

Dragon comes close to the station and hovers there while we use the robotic arm to “catch” it and drive it to the docking mechanism – likewise after we get everything out of it and we unbolt it from the ISS, the robotic arm drives it to a place where we “release” it and then command it to fly away with a button push.  Aki and I were commanded the “release” and “depart” from our “command post” in the cupola.

See spacex command post above.

The Progress also comes close to the station and when the ground teams in Moscow are ready, they send the approach command.  The vehicle flies in with a tracking system using a probe/cone (male, female type) docking mechanism.  Yuri and Oleg were monitoring the approach and were ready to take over and fly the Progress if the automatic systems were not working correctly, while Evgeny was documenting the approach!

See Progress command post and Evgeny progress above.

The Progress arrived on Wednesday – Halloween!  It was a little late in the day, so we didn’t actually open the hatch until the next day…yes, there were “treats” in there…more later.  Kevin even dressed up…no, he was learning how to care for the fish from Aki – take him seriously!!!!

Then of course, Thursday was the EVA.  That was a big day for all of us.  The Russian boys had to get up really early to open up the Progress hatch and start unloading!  You know we share communications systems and for EVA, we really clobber the communications because we are “hot mike” all the time – they can’t get rid of us.  So, to allow the Yuri, Oleg and Evegeny to have uninterrupted communications with the Moscow mission control, they got up at 5am and got their work done early so we could use it for EVA.

If you were that bored on Thursday and watched the EVA, then I am sorry to be repeating…but if not here is what we did in pictures:

-Kevin suited us up.  Go Notre Dame!
-We went way out on the far end of the truss which holds the solar arrays.  We are both in this picture, can you find us???
-we shut a valve to the piping to the radiator with the “leaking” ammonia.
-we maneuvered jumpers to redirect the flow of ammonia to another radiator.
– we deployed an old/new radiator.

It was a radiator that was used in the beginning of the construction of the ISS so wasn’t supposed to be needed anymore…lucky we had a spare!  It was actually under a shroud which Aki removed while I was working on the jumpers.  He is good at “folding laundry” as I call it.
The little things called SPDs, are “spool positioning devices.”  These needed to be put on the valves of the ammonia jumpers.  They help to prevent the valves from moving or getting stuck in position if the seals on the ammonia connect don’t work quite right.  They are not “necessary” but the fact that they are there will help someone in the future be able to move those valves if they need to.  It also gets really cold and hot out there, so these valves have thermal blankets on them.  The blankets were not designed to cover the additional hardware of the SPDs – so that was a little difficult to “stretch” them over the valve stems…but with a little elbow grease and some wire ties (just as handy as duct tape in the space program), we got it all done!

After the EVA, we just had some clean up stuff to do on Friday and were preparing for the party…but we all fell asleep instead…I am denying that is old age!  I knew I was going to be pretty tired on Friday as my body was adjusting after EVA.  The pressurized suit is pretty stiff to work in.  One of the areas that seem to get the most “traumatized” by this are your hands.  They are constantly working against the hard plastic (because of the pressure differential that the suit holds in vacuum), so they usually come out sort of red.  You may have seen Aki and me using moleskin to protect some of the areas which get rubbed the most on our hands.  Well, as usual they were a little red and sensitive when I went to sleep that night.  At some point I interlocked my fingers together while sleeping.  I woke up in the middle of the night pretty thirsty, and sore, and realized that my fingers had swollen up a bit – such that they were sort of stuck for a moment or two together interlaced.   It was sort of funny trying to pull my hands apart – I am glad no one else was awake to see me flail around for a bit…I am sure that was just that marvelous healing fluid – blood, working out all the aches and pain.

You know we are on this “strict” protocol which involves lifting every other day and high intensity cardiovascular workouts every other day.  Well, I decided that I needed a break before EVA.  I kept with the routine up to Wednesday, but then decided it would be best if I just stretched and cycled leisurely – slowly and gradually as my dad would say!
The ARED is a great place to stretch.  You can do all sorts of yoga stretches up here, because you really don’t need balance – you just need someplace to anchor your toe, or your arm to hold you in place and then you can do anything.  It really is a great place to stretch.  And the ARED allows you to put a little simulated weight on yourself to use a stretching lever, squatting low really stretches you hips for example.  So, Wednesday was all about stretching and getting ready for Thursdays “marathon” outside.  EVA is a 6 hour workout like a marathon – you aren’t sprinting the entire way, but it is a long time and you have to have enough energy to get you thru it.
Speaking of which, I heard the New York Marathon was cancelled because of the storm, but Giants football goes on.  I hope all our friends and family in the New Jersey, New York area are okay.

Finally we all rallied for a party on Saturday evening.  I had my Family conference with dad, Dina and our family friends the Milligans!  What a crowd – very fun to see every one and reminisce!

Just like a family dinner where everyone pitches in  – We all got out our special food and spread it all out on our table.  We had Azman’s sausages – cooked and sliced – yummm!!!

Everyone loved them and I was only able to save a couple for tonight for dinner.  We had corn tortilla chips with bean dip and Jalapenos!  One of the very special things we got from the Progress were fresh garlic, lemons, apples and grapefruits!  How cool is that – they were only a couple days old – fresh from Kazakhstan!

See Yummm above.

What an incredible evening actually – it was like Thanksgiving in many ways.  We were all very thankful for an incredible and busy week.  Of course the food was great and the company outstanding.  We actually had the Navy football game on and then the Notre Dame football game on in the background as we noshed and chatted.  It was great to hang together and we even got the rugby football out and threw it in the PMM for long catches- just like a Thanksgiving  afternoon of watching football, eating and playing.  As the evening continued, the guitar came out and Yuri serenaded us with fun and funny made up tunes!  We had fun singing about Aki and the fish, life up here, different cultures and friends.  It doesn’t get much better than that with people floating all over our little square living room!

General thoughts and questions:
So, beside your hands and feet, the most important instrument on this space station is your SPOON!  You just can’t live without it, or you can try, but you will be somewhat miserable.  I had the misfortune of putting my spoon down – with velcro, going to empty trash in the PMM and then it was gone.  For two days no spoon was to be had.  I had to resort to using my fork – no fun for that sloppy stuff like soup, baked beans in sauce, etc.  It just doesn’t work well….Well, I was sort of miserable, but tried not to complain – being the glass half full type of guy, I was convincing myself that it would show up.  I had almost given up hope, because usually we find stuff in a couple days…after that, well this is a big station, you may never see stuff again…But Kevin was curious about a cable routing in the very front of the lab – an entire module away from where I had “lost” my spoon.  Low and behold, Aki found my spoon as he showed Kevin where the cable routing went.  An airflow duct had sucked it up to it so it was stuck on the vent!  I will never take my spoon for granted again….just like the toile.

Oh yeah – that also was not working when we came in from EVA.  Kevin had promised us hot tea, warm food and quick access to toilet…2 out of 3 isn’t too bad, but it was a long way to the bathroom – 2 modules worth to fly thru after getting out of the space suit.  Not to mention flying past our Russian buddies in your somewhat stinky “underwear” – liquid cooling garmet (the outfit under the spacesuit).  They were all very nice, and cleared out of the way, probably noting that look of “I have to go” on my face.  I felt I had the power to make people move…not sure if that is good.

Happy Birthday to all those November babies out there!
Kristen Zalokar
Mrs. Zalokar
Happy Anniversary Carol and Erik!
Happy Anniversary mom and dad!!!!!

Thanks again for tuning in!
Smiles from space, s

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