A Window, Symbols and a Philosophy: Living the Dream

November 21, 2011

Thanks for sharing this adventure with me! I can’t thank you enough for your prayers and encouragement.


I have a few random thoughts to share before we climb aboard our Soyuz spacecraft and head for home on Planet Earth.


Our window to the world.


You’ve seen the pictures and heard me talk about the cupola, but probably have a hard time imagining this place. Here’s a picture of my window to the world. I’m going to miss its unrivaled view of God’s Creation.



Every time I slide down into the cupola, I say a special thanks to the memory of deceased astronaut, Charles “Lacy” Veach, whose vision, passion and persistence led to this stunning asset being rescued from the budget cut scrap heap in the early 1990s. Lacy knew instinctively the importance of having windows to support onboard robotic operations. Although he knew he was losing another personal battle with his health at the time, he fought ferociously to convince the program the cupola would be worth the investment.



 Today’s astronauts who use the space station’s big robotic arm to grab hovering cargo ships just outside these windows are thankful for the unambiguous view. And the rest of us who barely touch the arm get a lot of benefit, too.


Special symbols for our mission emblem.


During the Change of Command ceremony, I spoke about our mission patch and the image of the ISS following the spirit of exploration as exemplified by one of the great explorers, Captain James Cook and his ship, Endeavour.



Take a close look at the ship’s wake as it transitions from foam into a stardust trail. Individual stars in that trail represent our personal family legacy – there is a star on the patch for the children of each crewmember.  If you look closely, one small star has a little extra “twinkle.” This is for the only grandchild in the bunch, my granddaughter, Rebecca. She was born a few weeks before I left Houston for final launch preparations. The best part of going home is to be with my family again. I can’t wait to see my wife, kids, and extended family, but have to confess I am most excited about getting to get to know this precious little girl. “Twink” has no idea what her crazy Grandpa Mike has been up to since she was born. She’s too young now, but she’ll be hearing lots of stories about my adventures on this amazing orbital outpost in the years ahead.


The philosophy of Jeremiah Johnson.


A couple of months ago, we had our first “Movie Night” on the ISS and we watched my all-time favorite movie, Jeremiah Johnson. In the movie, Jeremiah (Robert Redford) heads west to become a Mountain Man in the Rocky Mountains. He is taught much by an older, cantankerous mountain man (Will Greer) who goes by “Bear Claw.” After many missteps and hardships, Jeremiah learns to love the rugged beauty of the Rockies. At the end of the movie, Bear Claw encounters Jeremiah crouched in a cold, snowy campsite cooking rabbit on a spit. The following is a part of their short exchange.


Bear Claw, “You’ve come far, Pilgrim.”

Jeremiah Johnson, “It feels like far.”

Bear Claw, “Were it worth the trouble?”

Jeremiah Johnson, “ Ha – What trouble?”


We have traveled far in this journey which began almost exactly 3 years ago when we were assigned to this mission. The training flow is 2.5 years in length and about 40% of it takes place in Russia, Germany, Japan, and Canada. In comparison to the 11 months of training for a space shuttle mission, which is almost all in Houston, this was hard to imagine. I thought it would be dreadful. I was wrong. Working and training with these amazing ISS and Soyuz teams in various corners of our globe was one of the great parts of this mission.


Similarly, it was hard to comprehend what it would be like to live and work in space for almost half a year, but the time has gone by in a flash.


I had my doubts about this entire adventure when I accepted the assignment. Just as it is with climbing mountains, the big things in life always look impossible when you look only at the top. The key is to success is to set your bearing, find the next foothold and keep moving forward. Now that I’ve reached the top, done my job and enjoyed the view, it’s time to come down. “Were it worth the trouble?” I think you know my answer to that one.


In a few hours, we will say our goodbyes, climb into our Soyuz spacecraft, and depart the space station. Our next stop will be Planet Earth where I plan to breathe deeply of the fresh air, drink big mugs of black coffee, eat food which doesn’t come from a pouch, enjoy the embrace of my family and give a huge grandpa hug to a precious little girl I want to get to know.


There will be time later to see what new dreams and adventures might wait around the next corner.


I’ll see you on down the trail.


Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, there you long to return.

—Leonardo da Vinci   


Living the Dream!



-Mike Fossum

 Commander, Expedition 29

 Flight Engineer 2, Soyuz TMA-02M



More Intelligent Life on Space Station

November 16, 2011

It was a huge day in space today! The Soyuz arrived with Dan, Anton, and Anatoly and Expedition 29 finally has a full crew of 6! These guys are an awesome bunch and I really regret only having a few days with them to share the space station. We’ve done everything we could to help start the handover via videos sent to the ground and special conferences. Now we push everything into full afterburner to make every minute count.



At this point this morning, they had already docked to the ISS and we were waiting for the pressure leak checks to be completed. They seemed to go on forever! All the action was on the Soyuz located on the other side of the hatch behind me, so I could do was hang around and wait.



Of course there’s always time to show some Aggie colors!



With a few extra tugs, the hatches are open at last and some happy guys come tumbling into their new home for the next 4.5 months.



Our first dinner as a 6-person crew was a time to celebrate. It was also training time as we shared some of the finer points of space cuisine in this 5-star do-it-yourself restaurant with an awesome view of the galaxy.


There were a lot of huge highlights to the day.


From a professional side, the arrival of these guys means we can finally stop preparing to leave the Space Station in a preserved state without a crew. A monumental effort on the ground has been dedicated to reducing the risks associated with this possibility and we’re all very glad that is not a plan we have to execute.  


Another highlight was finally sharing space with Dan on orbit. He has tolerated sharing housing with me in Russia for the last 2 years and we’ve spent a lot of late nights studying for classes and talking about being up here together someday.


The best part of today, though, was finally seeing first-time space farers, Anatoly and Anton, on orbit. They have dreamed and worked hard for many years for this day and I’m excited to have shared it with them.


That brings to mind an old quote which resonates with me and has served as a call for action for many years.


Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.  – Leo Joseph Suenens


Dream big! Then get to work!!


Living the Dream!!!




Soyuz to Space Station

We just watched our crewmates Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin blast off from the snowy steppes of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They are a little later than originally scheduled, but it amazes me that they were cleared for launch so soon after the failure of the Soyuz booster during the Progress cargo launch in August. This is a real credit to the primarily Russian team who were able to deduce the cause and execute a plan for moving forward so quickly. I have to admit I wasn’t sure back in August we would be here to greet them on the other side of the hatch.


This sets in motion a rapid-fire chain of events which will take place over the next week. After their arrival in almost exactly 2 days, we will have only 4 full days to pass on as much as possible before it’s time for us to climb aboard our Soyuz spacecraft for the ride home. We spent a lot of time over the weekend packing and preparing for their arrival.


There are no happier human beings in the universe right now than Anton and Anatoly who have now realized their dream about launching into space. I wish I could see the look on their faces as they experience weightlessness and get their first look at our beautiful planet rolling by outside their windows right now.


In short, it looks like Expedition 29 will have a full crew of 6 for a few days before I hand the reins to the new Commander, Dan Burbank, as we depart and Expedition 30 begins. 


Our time up here draws to a close and I’m going to make the best of every remaining minute!


Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum

 Commander, Expedition 29


Pearls on a String and Other Beautiful Things from Space

November 6, 2011


We head home in a little more than two weeks! A lot must happen first, so things are even busier than usual.


The docking of the Russian Progress cargo ship a few days ago was a great success. This was a crucial step toward getting the Expedition 29/30 crew (Dan, Anatoly, and Anton) off the ground in a week. Right now we are simultaneously preparing for our departure, planning for their arrival, trying to optimize our short handover period and looking at what changes might be required if they are delayed, and we must depart before they get here. Of course, we’re still running a space station and keeping the science program moving forward too!


But let’s forget about all that for just a few minutes to talk about a few of my favorite photos.


The first was taken as we were coming across the Atlantic and are approaching Europe. Great Britain is on the left with London shining as the brightest city. (This is a rare view with so few clouds!) Across the English Channel we see much of Western Europe rolled out like a glowing carpet. From space at night, Paris draws our attention away from the lacework pattern of smaller communities across France – much like it does on the ground. You can have a lot of fun using a map to identify the different countries as you look around.


It’s always great to have some time to look out of the windows, but it’s really amazing over Europe at night due to the concentration of people living in an industrialized world with the lights burning brightly. Borders which aren’t visible in the daylight sometimes show clearly at night because countries have different standards for outdoor lighting. You can even get clues to the highway systems by looking for communities clustered in a line like pearls on a string.


As we travel along at 5 miles per second with a trend toward the south east, the countries go rolling below us.


Here we see look down the length of Italy as it stretches into the Mediterranean Sea. I had no idea Northern Italy was so heavily populated! Although somewhat distorted from this angle, it really does look like a boot when you are overhead.


I found the next view to be even more amazing. Egypt is immediately identifiable by the illumination of The Nile River and the delta where it empties into the Mediterranean. It appears like 99% of the population of Egypt lives on the Nile. The Red Sea stretches southward toward the horizon and the Suez Canal stands out as a brightly lit line to the Med. On the left side is Israel. In the daylight you can see roads and major cities, but the other communities blend in to the dry rocky landscape which from here looks unchanged since Bible times. At night the extent of the development in this small country stands out in vivid contrast. Always fascinating!


I hope you enjoy the views almost as much as do I!!

I look forward to getting home soon, but I am definitely going to miss this amazing place.


Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum

 Commander/Expedition 29



Progress in Space, and I'll be Home for the Holidays

October 30, 2011

Sorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from me! It has been plenty busy up here since the next crew’s arrival has been delayed. We’re staying on top of things, but it doesn’t leave enough time for me to collect my thoughts and jot them down at the end of long days and short nights.


I’ve had the chance to talk to our former crew crewmate, Ron Garan. He’s doing great and loving life with his feet back on his favorite planet. On Sunday we will have a video conference with our future crewmate, Dan Burbank. Dan’s in Star City right now. We were all watching with great interest as the next Russian Progress vehicle successfully launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome earlier this Sunday morning. It uses the same Soyuz rocket which launches us into space and this flight is a critical step in clearing Dan’s crew for launch in a couple of weeks.


You can do the math from here. They launch in a couple of weeks and we only overlap by a few days. Add in some orbital rendezvous days and I have only a little over 3 weeks before returning home on Nov 22. With a little luck, I’ll be home for the first Thanksgiving in 3 years. It’s hard to believe the time has flown by so quickly!


I have so many stories to tell and photos to share!

Most will have to wait, but here are 2 pictures I just have to share right now.


The first was our view out of the cupola about a month ago. I took this picture as part of a time sequence of photos and have heard it’s been turned into a video clip. Can’t wait to see it! When you’re flying through the aurora, it seems like you should be able to hear or feel something. The closest vehicle shown here hanging from the bottom of the space station is our Soyuz spacecraft. That will be our ride home in a few weeks. The other ship a little further away is a Progress cargo ship. They are very similar which explains why they use almost exactly the same rockets to get to space.


When the mission is complete for a Progress cargo ship, we pack it full of trash and send it home. That’s actually a figure of speech because the Progress ship doesn’t make it all the way “home” – they are designed to burn up as they reenter the atmosphere.


I managed to capture a sequence of photos of this vehicle on Saturday as it was shredding atoms of the upper atmosphere into a white-hot plasma trail and the friction was beginning to tear the ship itself apart. To get down, the ship uses small rockets to slow down just enough to change its orbit so that it encounters thin air at the top of our atmosphere. The vehicle moving through that thin air at high speeds generates friction (or drag) which slows it down much more. If it’s in darkness, the results can be spectacular! At the time I took this picture, the Progress ship was below and ahead of us, so I’m looking basically down. The sky (below) is just starting to get illuminated by the rising sun. A few seconds before this shot, the sky background was black, but the plasma/debris trail wasn’t as pronounced. A few seconds after this and the rising sun washed everything out.


It was really cool to watch this with our eyes because photos don’t capture everything. The glow was steady at first, but as the ship started to break up, there were big changes in the intensity and you could see smaller things fall behind. Our ride home in the Soyuz has the same kind of meteoric glow, but our heat shield protects us from most of the heating.


That’s about it for tonight. We have some long weeks ahead, but I’ll be enjoying every minute of it!!


Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum

 Commander, Expedition 29


Wildfires Deep in the Heart of Texas: The Lone Star From Space

Sept. 6, 2011

We got a look at the wild fires burning in Texas this afternoon. Wow.


I know this picture is hard to interpret because we’re not used to looking at our state from such an angle. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you Galveston Bay is in the lower center of the photo obscured by smoke haze. You can see the lower end of the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico just this side of the clouds at the top left. With a map (or Google Earth) and some time, you will begin to recognize a lot you know. (It’s a great view from 240 miles up!)


One  feature stands out today which shouldn’t be there – the plumes of at least five major fires and the haze from many more smaller ones. While on orbit, I’ve taken many photographs of fires in New Mexico, Wyoming, Australia, South America, and Africa. Every time I see a smoke plume, I grab a camera and attempt to capture the image with the thought it might be interesting to someone somewhere. When I asked Mission Control for some details on the fires today, they told me Bastrop was the site of one of the largest and confirmed the state park located on the edge of town had been 2/3 consumed along with hundreds of homes in the area and over a thousand across Texas. That was a kick in the gut. This image now elicits a strong emotional response as I realized one of my personal favorite places, Bastrop State Park, was in smoldering ruins and thousands of fellow Texans had just lost everything they owned.


Upon further reflection, I realize the park will recover over time, although the forest my Boy Scouts love to run through with map and compass in hand won’t be the same until they visit with their own grandchildren someday.


The lost homes are what hurt the most.  Our castles.  the places where we relax and gather our families and our memories.  Have you ever helped someone in the aftermath of a home fire?  I have and it is awful.  After a flood, you’re dealing with mold and mud with many possessions damaged beyond repair, but you get to hold the soggy photo album and make the decision about trying to salvage a few precious family photos or tossing them in the growing, molding pile.  With a home fire, you literally use a rake to go through the pile of ash, cinders and debris in a feeble, almost-hopeless attempt to find a few treasures to clutch tightly as you move on down the path of life.


While devastating, these challenges also tend to bring out the best as communities work together to help each other through the tough times.  Today the story is about the fires, the heroic efforts to stop the carnage, and the devastating losses.  In the weeks and months ahead, listen closely for the thousands of quiet stories of restoration and renewal as we rake through the piles, push the mess aside, and start anew.  Better yet, go out there and be part of one of those stories.


I’ll see you on down the trail.


Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum

 Flight Engineer/Expedition 28




Ron Rocks Space Station Blues

Sept. 2, 2011

TGIF! It’s interesting to note the exact figure of speech is common in Russia. Guess it’s sort of a universal sigh of relief — a reference to the end of the work week and the start of a weekend. We never get very far from the office up here, but do look forward to weekends as a chance to clean up the leftover messes from the week, catch up on some sleep, and complete some personal projects.


We’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster ride up here since the failure of the Russian Progress launch last week. Future launches of cargo and crew using the same rocket system are on hold pending the completion of the failure investigation and fixing the problems.


American Ron Garan, and cosmonauts Andrei and Sasha were scheduled to go home on Sept 8, but their replacement crew (American Dan Burbank, and Russians Anatoly and Anton) will not be launching until November at the earliest. In order to minimize the amount of time with only 3 crewmembers on board, Ron’s crew was told they were extending their stay until late October.

 Of course he’s not stranded up here (although he might be feeling a little trapped living with me). We also recognize this would have a huge impact on the entire Exp 28 team as they go into extra innings after 4 months of hard, dedicated work. In the midst of this turmoil, we had some weekend time on our hands and decided to have some fun with Ronnie’s plight.


As with many details in these dynamic times, plans changed again and now they are only extending a week. Ron won’t believe he’s going home until he feels the wind on his face and breathes deeply the wonderful smells of his favorite planet.


Hope you enjoy the video!

Have a great Friday and enjoy a long weekend ahead!




Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum

 ISS 28/29


A Beautiful Disaster

Aug. 27, 2011


We’ve been watching Hurricane Irene take shape as we’ve flown overhead the last few days.  I took this picture as she was clearing the Caribbean and pressing toward the Carolinas on Friday afternoon. Stunning. And scary.


When I look down from my vantage point on the space station, most of the time I marvel at the complexity and beauty of our home planet. We mostly look for bits of brown and green (i.e., land) on an otherwise blue and white tapestry of ocean and clouds. In fairness, you can sometimes see traces of ocean currents and mildly interesting patterns in the clouds, but those just don’t draw my attention like the land with its mountains, rivers, fields, and pallet of colors.


This week I watched a mildly interesting circular pattern of clouds turn into a fearsome storm. I may never look at clouds with marginal interest again.

After living on the Texas Gulf Coast for most of my life and experiencing the raw power of several hurricanes first-hand, this sight of a full-blown hurricane evokes a lot of emotions.


Good luck down there!

You’re in our thoughts and prayers up here!!


Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum

 ISS Expedition 28/29

Keeping a Tight Ship After Cargo Crash

Aug. 25, 2011


Sorry so long without writing! It has been really busy in a mostly great way. We have settled into a routine of cranking through the weeks – keeping the space station running, ramping up the science, and learning how to get some really cool sequences of night photos I can’t wait to show you. We recently commented on how we could see what life will be like up here in the post-Space Shuttle era. Today, however, we get a curve ball thrown at us when a Russian Progress cargo ship had a failure during launch and didn’t make orbit. In other words, it crashed.


You probably know more about this than we do tonight.


There was no crew on the cargo ship, so apparently no loss of life and that’s a very good thing.

We lost some cargo and supplies, but are pretty well stocked thanks to Atlantis and the STS-135 crew, so this isn’t a serious setback.

The bigger deal right now is the fact that the booster system (i.e., “rocket”) for the Soyuz spacecraft (which is now the only way to get crew to the space station) shares many components with the one used on the cargo ship which failed today.


In short, uh oh.

With very little knowledge of what went wrong, we have to be very careful before strapping another crew in for launch.


What this means for us immediately is we are as safe as you can be living 240 miles above the planet while orbiting at 17,500 mph! Our rockets worked perfectly during launch, got us into orbit and to the ISS. It seems fairly certain the failure which occurred is related to launch. We don’t use the same huge rockets for the ride home, so there is no reason to worry about a problem with us getting home safely.


To make a long story just a little bit longer, we’re fine. We have a mission to accomplish: We’ll stay focused on taking care of this amazing international outpost and getting as much science accomplished as possible. As always, the ones who take the emotional brunt of this kind of deal are the loved ones waiting for us at home.


You’ll hear from me again soon – I promise! In the meantime, here’s a single photo to whet your appetite. It was taken over Central Europe looking south down the length of Italy. I have a few thousand more.

Central Europe from ISS


In the meantime, thanks for your prayers and stay tuned. This is going to continue to get interesting!


Living the Dream!


-Mike Fossum



A Thousand Words

July 18, 2011


It seems like Atlantis just docked a few days ago, but their mission here is done. It has been absolutely exhausting, but awesome at the same time. The STS-135 crew (Chris, Doug, Sandy and Rex) were wonderful to have onboard!! I won’t call them guests because they were more like family.


It was emotional today to be part of the departure ceremony and hatch closing for the last flying American human spacecraft. There are many things I’d like to say, but for tonight, I’ll limit it to sharing the attached photograph. It shows Atlantis packed and ready to depart for home tomorrow. I think this one’s worth at least a thousand words…


Living the Dream!


Mike Fossum