A Spacewalk for Memory Lane

July 13, 2011


What an awe-inspiring day today!


It’s way too late to still be up, but Ron Garan and I completed a six and a half hour spacewalk on the ISS while supporting the STS-135 space shuttle mission and I’m still pumped with adrenaline. This was my 7th spacewalk in 5 years. That, in itself, is hard to believe. It’s even harder to believe this is the end of an era and we are participants.


In this case, “we” means all of us — including you.  For 30 years, the United States has flown a small fleet of spaceships named Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis.  We have suffered through tragedy and cheered the triumphs.  Someday you will tell your grandchildren about these amazing flying machines we used to have.  I’m saving up stories now to share with Rebecca Anne as soon as she’s old enough to understand and I’ll happily repeat them for her cousins.


We have paid dearly in terms of sweat, blood, and money for what we have learned over the last decades.  Only through such perseverance can we hope to advance humankind.  Our future may present us with challenges, but we press on because we must.


From the beginning of the program, one of the space shuttle’s envisioned missions was hauling big pieces of hardware up to space from which we could build a space station. With that monumental mission accomplished, we have decided to retire this venerable workhorse. Other vehicles will follow someday. But for today, it was humbling for Ron and me to be the last spacewalkers to work in a Space Shuttle’s cargo bay.


Before I entered the ISS airlock for the last time, I was held spellbound looking back at the majestic view of Atlantis perched on her docking port at the front point of the station.  In only a few days, she’ll be winging her last crew home.  Let’s enjoy every minute and lock in the memories to share until the next amazing flying machines light up the sky, hurtling their trusting crews toward the heavens while we watch, pray, and cheer from earth below.


Living the dream!


-Mike Fossum

 Flight Engineer, Expedition 28



Hosting History: Awaiting Atlantis' Arrival

July 9, 2011

Atlantis is on the way! With weatherthreatening to delay the mission and an interruption in the countdown at 31seconds (!) before launch, the crew of STS-135 has begun their voyage!!

Ron Garan and Iduring suit fit check a couple of weeks ago. Aftertraining underwater for over 250 hours together and doing 3 spacewalks onSTS-124 three years ago, we definitely have a feeling of “Getting the band backtogether”!

Collecting samples from a freezer,which stops all biological activity at a crisp -98OF. This spaceshuttle flight will be our last opportunity to get a lot of these valuableresearch samples home for a while.

The period of time leading up to thishistoric event has been unbelievably busy on the International Space Station.We arrived exactly one month ago on June 9th. We’ve been busypreparing the ISS, preparing for our spacewalk while they are here, andcollecting scientific and engineering samples to go home on the last spaceshuttle.

As busy as each day can be, all workstopped yesterday as we watched the launch of Atlantis with a live video feedfrom Mission Control in Houston. The major event overshadowing all of our workfor the last month has been preparation for this mission, so it was appropriatewe joined the rest of the world in viewing this historical event.

Expedtion 28 Crew Watching Launch of Atlantis

There are a wide range of emotions whichrun through you watching any human space launch. Those haven’t changed muchsince I watched as a child: Excitement, fear, anticipation, wonder, and hopefor the future. We hold our collective breath as the beast roars to life.Cleared the tower – check. Good roll program – check. Go for throttle up –check. Solid rocket booster separation – check. Go for nominal main engineshutdown/go for pitch maneuver  – check.The cadence of a highly-trained crew onboard Atlantis and on the ground is likemusic to our ears. There are challenges and much work ahead, but for now, allis well.

STS-135 Atlantis Launch

Thisis the only photo we have onboard the International Space Station ofyesterday’s launch of Atlantis to begin STS-135.  Since you’re reading this, you have at leasta passing interest in our nation’s space program and have probably seen dozens,if not hundreds, of photos of this historic event.  I don’t need another one. After 30 years ofspace shuttle missions, this one says it all for me.

Make no mistake, the preparation andlaunching of any spacecraft is a tough business for tough people. This is truefrom the top managers who have to make the tough decisions to the technicianson the ground who hone their rocket maintenance skills on the weekends keepingtheir Harleys in perfect running condition. They prepare that spacecraft foreach mission with the same tender loving care they use to polish the chrome toa perfect shine for a Sunday ride. For us astronauts, that’s not “our” spaceshuttle. The technicians who care for them daily make it very clear theyconsider each to be “their” space shuttle. The ground team just allows us takeeach vehicle out for a ride and we better bring them home in good shape! Youhave to really trust someone to loan them your bike. Same goes for spaceships!

The spaceshuttle launch image is one which symbolizes America. It is powerful, huge,tough, bold, and at times audacious. Today the famous launch pads at KennedySpace Center have gone silent. We’ll have more time to ponder the implicationslater. For now, we have a mission to execute.

Come on up,Atlantis! We’ll leave the lights on for you and have a cup of coffee waiting!!

Living theDream!

-Mike Fossum

Getting Down with Zero G

June 20, 2011


It’s hard to believe we’re starting our 2nd full week up here! The past 11 days since we arrived at the ISS have been a blur of physical adaptation to space and mental adaptation to working in zero-G.

Image from Mike Fossum's STS-124 Mission in June, 2008 (docked to ISS)


At this point in a shuttle flight, it’s about time to pack up your gear and head for KSC. And we’re just getting started…. One of the big differences between the two is that every minute is so precious on a short shuttle flight, so we’re scripted and trained for optimum efficiency. You know all of the details of your flight perfectly and it shows in a beautifully choreographed ballet of spacecraft, other equipment (like new pieces of space station), and people in the air and on the ground all doing their part shoulder-to-shoulder. (OK – maybe it’s just “beautifully choreographed” if you’re a techno-space geek. Guilty as charged.)


For ISS, a significant part of our training is devoted to our ride up – the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. That 50-hr ride up and 4-hr ride home after 5.5 months requires a huge dedication of time and training resources, but it doesn’t help us prepare to operate the space station. In addition, the ISS is a huge place. (My previous rough estimate was about 5 Greyhound buses in size. After already searching unsuccessfully for several things, I must recalculate my estimate.) Finally, with laboratories and systems built in countries around the globe, there is simply too much here for one person to learn on the ground, so a good part of our training is OJT or “On the Job Training.” That’s frustrating at times (for all involved), but we’re picking up speed quickly.


I have time for one quick story about adaptation that is hard to imagine back home. When you let something go, it doesn’t fall in the general area around your feet. It scatters in a growing sphere around you, but your instinct is to look “down” for the missing thing. (Wherever your brain interprets “down” to be, that is….) So you lose things. You may have heard me tell the story about losing my fork on the second day of my first shuttle mission five years ago.  The photo below is from my STS-124 mission.  I looked and looked for that darned thing, but ate with a spoon until the day we were packing up to come home. While adjusting and tightening some bags for reentry, my fork came floating into the cabin. It happened again. On our second night here in the ISS, we had dinner in the Russian Service Module and my silverware (really “eating utensil”) kit didn’t make the trip back with me. Here we go again! I got luckier this time – Sergey found my kit in the FGB lodged in some stored equipment. I’ve managed to keep track of my silverware for a whole week now, so things are looking up!


Make it a great week!


I’m living the dream!!



Tron: Legacy and a Little Tree

June 2, 2011


It’s Thursday evening here, and we proceed with preparations to launch very early next Wed morning. Technically that will be 8 June here, but still the 7th where most of you live. Yes – I’m getting excited!


Yesterday we planted our own trees on “Cosmonaut Lane.” It’s a really cool tradition where every participant in the Russian human spaceflight program plants a tree. Walking around this area is a walk through history. Now I have my own little twig.

Astronaut Mike Fossum - tree planting ceremony in Baikonur, Kazakhstan Astronaut Mike Fossum - tree planting ceremony in Baikonur, Kazakhstan

Last night we got together and watched the movie ‘Tron: Legacy’ in Russian language with English subtitles. We picked that movie for obvious reasons once you see our crew poster (below). It was fun listening closely to find disconnects between the spoken and written words.


Today was a day filled with mostly personal preparation. I have turned in my crew notebook and personal items to be stowed in our Soyuz spacecraft tomorrow morning early. Now I’m finishing up annotations of notes in my flight procedure books. Next will be working on email lists and other administrative stuff that will probably consume all free time.


We’ve taken a number of runs along the river to the south of here, but today was a workout in the gym. I’m trying to push the weights to get my muscles and bones as strong as possible before living in zero-G for almost 6 months, but will continue working throughout the mission using the equipment we have on-board.


Tomorrow will be busy with our second (and last) fit checks in our Soyuz vehicle. It’s pretty amazing to finally be working on a ship with our name on it. It’s not just any old spacecraft – it’s OUR spacecraft! Hope to get some more pictures and maybe video tomorrow.


Some of the best news is my family has all arrived in Moscow in the last two days and they will be heading out here on Saturday. I can’t wait to see them!!!


In the meantime, NASA just posted these videos which we have been working on in our free time out here.


Tree Planting Tradition and Ceremony



Flag Raising Ceremony



Spinning Cosmonaut




In case you missed them, there are more videos here:


We did this one in Star City about running in the forest. (A bit quirky, but had fun doing it!)



Departure from Star City:



Official commission and press conference before departing Star City. (I would skip forward to about 32 minute point.)




You can keep an eye on the NASA YouTube channel for more to come!







From Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, where I’m definitely Living the dream!


-Mike Fossum




So Long, Star City

May 25, 2011

I want to start documenting this amazing adventure and might as well start here since I have been too busy to do so for the last two and a half years.

We have been on the GCTC airplane from Star City, Russia, to Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, for about 2 hours, and a member of the airplane crew just draped a blanket over one of my crewmates while he is napping.  I can understand – it has been an amazing, exhausting adventure to get to this place.

We can still hear the echoes of the celebrations on April 12th as Russia and the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space. Who could have imagined back then the launch to begin Russia’s second half century of human spaceflight would include an American Air Force Colonel (USAFR-Ret) and a Japanese doctor/astronaut?  The history of our three countries includes periods of intense conflict and horrific strife; yet here we are – American, Russian, and Japanese crewmates – fused together as a crew and ready to persevere through the final steps to the launch pad in the next two weeks.

Six months ago, I served as a backup crewmember for the launch of the Expedition 26/27 crew, with Russian Cosmonaut/ Dmitry Kondatrayev, Italian Astronaut/Paolo Nespoli, and American Astronaut/Cady Coleman. Specifically, I was the backup for Cady. The intent of this is to be ready to step into their place, if circumstances were to require. We traveled and trained together around the globe in Russia, Japan, and Germany. Our backup crew went through all of the same steps of preparation. The two most significant were the successful completion of our final qualification examinations (tests) in Star City, Russia, and the final preparations for launch in Baikonur.

I have observed many launches and have been on the pointy-end of two, but I was not prepared for the emotions of the Soyuz launch in December. Although we went through all of the training steps with them, on launch day, only one crew donned the Sokol spacesuits. We accompanied Dmitry, Paolo, and Cady all the way to the foot of the fueled rocket on the pad. While rockets are normally inert objects, when they are fueled on the pad, they take on the visage of living, fearsome beasts – belching fumes and straining as if anxious to do their job of hurling us off the planet. We stood there in the middle of a dreadfully cold December night watching our Оснобной (Prime) crew climb into the elevator to go take their place on the rocket and in history. As we waved goodbye, it was strange to know we would not see them again in person for an entire year until they had completed their 6-month mission and we had subsequently completed ours.

Six months have passed since that night. Yesterday we held our breath as we watched them depart from the International Space Station, reenter Earth’s atmosphere, and descend with a shocking jolt to the barren steppes of Kazakhstan. We have enjoyed watching them live and work on the station and rejoiced at seeing their smiling faces as they emerged from their trusty Soyuz capsule in the brilliant morning sun. Within hours, they were winging their way directly home and we hurriedly finished our packing. With our docking port on the ISS now open, it was time to go. Expedition 28 had officially begun and it was time to join my former STS-124 crewmate, spacewalk partner and good buddy – Ron Garan – along with his Russian crewmates, Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev, on this international treasure we call the ISS.

I am really happy that our son, John, was able to take a break from his study-abroad program in Moscow to join me for the last evening in Star City. With his help, we were able to finish packing up 2 years of study notes and personal items fairly quickly, so I took him on a bike ride through a bit of the surrounding forest. There was still some snow in dark places when I arrived a month ago, but Spring is now in full bloom and it is magnificent! John has long loved camping and hiking in the outdoors as a Boy Scout, so he enjoyed a few miles of trail riding as much as I did. For me, this was an important part of my personal preparation – one last time to get deep into the forest away from the sounds of technology to breathe deeply of the air which was rich with the fresh smell of moist earth and blossoming life.

Later that evening we shared some social time with my astronaut buddies who continue to train in Star City. Some I will greet in a few months when they arrive at the ISS. Others are just beginning the long road of training. I especially enjoyed overlapping with my STS-124 crewmate, Karen Nyberg, who was literally starting her first week of training in Star City at the same time I was checking out. My advice was to enjoy the journey and she will be packing for the launch pad before she knows it.

This morning we participated in one of the unique traditions associated with the Russia space program – a formal departure breakfast. There were a few American and other international astronauts, managers and support personnel, but most of the crowd was Russian. Many were the younger cosmonauts who are still active in the program (including Dmitry Kondatrayev who looked fantastic for having been back on the planet for about 26 hours!). There were also a surprising number of the living legends of Russian spaceflight who make a point of attending every one of these ceremonial sendoffs. The number of medals signifying honors as a “Hero of the Russian Federation” or “Hero of the Soviet Union” is staggering. Many dignitaries gave short speeches to wish us success, and then we all said a few words of thanks to the excellent training team and our families who put up with so much separation as we follow our dream around the globe and into space. Son, John, who could not comprehend why Dad was insistent he needed to come to this breakfast, finally understood.

After a short walk along a tree-lined path in the training territory of Star City, we hugged our families and friends, and were off to the nearby airfield where the prime and backup crews boarded separate airplanes. From now until launch, we will be in quarantine conditions and the prime & backup crews will never travel together in any vehicle.

As I look out the window of the airplane, the forests of Russia have turned into the brown, unbroken steppes of Kazakhstan. We have started our descent into Baikonur Cosmodrome as we fly over the Aral Sea and will land in a few minutes to begin the final preparations for launch.

I know without a shadow of doubt I am fortunate to be able to follow my calling in this the most outrageous of humankind’s adventures.

I am living the dream.

Thanks for coming along on the adventure!

 -Mike Fossum

 Flight Engineer/Exp 28, Commander/Exp 29