Dragon Arrives

So I have been on the ISS now for almost 2 weeks. While the time has flown by, it also feels like our launch was so long ago. I think we have all experienced these types of time warps. It has been everything I expected and more. It is funny that we train for over 2 years for a flight and I feel very comfortable with any technical tasks that I may have to do and it was the daily routine/personal items that has been the most overwhelming. It was the simple things: where do I find clothes, what is the best technique for using the bathroom, how do I set up my personal sleep station, etc that really worked my brain. The only way to learn all of that is by being here and relying on the patience and experience of the your fellow crew mates. Don and Andre have been great. I will always be grateful for their assistance. Now that I am settled in and comfortable, I can now focus on the science and maintenance that we do during our work days.

Of course the big story so far of my short time period onboard, has been the arrival of Dragon. I congratulate the SpaceX team for their monumental accomplishment. Since my original launch date was delayed by 6 weeks and Dragon was scheduled to arrive before me, Don and Andre had trained onboard as a 2 person team. They had a great game plan. With very consistent training in Houston, I was able to assist and fill holes as needed. It was too cool the first time we caught sight of Dragon. As it got closer and closer, it just became more and more amazing. The grapple and berthing went without a hitch. Even though we are very well trained, there was quite a bit of relief onboard after our tasks were complete. We gathered as a crew that night for a group dinner to celebrate.

Things that are memorable up here: floating (you never get tired of that, it is like a dream), group dinners and stories around the table, working on science experiments that can only be done in a micro-gravity environment, reading a book while positioned in the Cupola with the Earth as a backdrop, working out and while doing bench press staring at Earth (I think if more people had that view while working out, we would make it a higher priority), sleeping in the vertical….. The list will grow with every passing day. I am grateful every day for this opportunity.

Before I Go, Gratitude

Everything is progressing well towards our launch on May 15 at 09:01 am local time in Kazakhstan.  We had a chance to see our vehicle one last time, now all packed with the cargo we will take with us to the International Space Station.  She looks good and is ready for us.  The fully assembled vehicle has been transferred by train and with a well rehearsed and proven procedure, has been placed in its final position on the launch pad.   

 People ask what does one do a few days before launch?  There are of course a few briefings, but they are kept to a minimum.  We discuss the details of our launch and rendezvous with the ISS and the current status of the ISS, if any changes have occurred while we have been in Baikonur.  Some time is set aside to meet with our respective management representatives.  The work that is done to put together a successful mission is enormous.  It is with great appreciation that we are allowed to have brief contact with immediate family members.  None of us would be where we are without the love and support of our families.  All of the Astronauts and Cosmonauts know that the stress of a launch is much more difficult for them.  We are trained, know what to expect, and get to experience the unforgettable thrill of a launch to space.  We thank them for their support and sacrifices.  No special requests for meals are made.  We are well fed in Baikonur within their regular menu and we couldn’t ask for more.  As I think about it, the more you can keep a normal routine leading up to an important event, the more relaxed one feels.  We will be getting up around midnight the evening before launch, so the day before is short as we will try to get some sleep after lunch.  As a crew, we are well rested and ready.

 I look forward to sharing our story with you with future blogs from The Great Outer Space.

Bye-Bye From Baikonur, Leaving on a Rocket

At the historic museum near the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 31/32 Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA adds his name to the “Wall of Signatures.” Photo credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov

The initial goal of approximately 2.5 years of training is finally coming to fruition.  I am currently in Baikonur, Kazakhstan performing final preparations for my May 15 Soyuz launch to the International Space Station (ISS) where I will be spending 4 months living and working in space.  My crew mates are cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, a veteran space flyer dating back to the Mir Space Station and Sergey Revin, a rookie.  I am lucky to serve with these gentlemen, not only as colleagues but as friends.  When we arrive, we will be greeted by American Astronaut Don Pettit, Dutch Astronaut Andre Kuipers and Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko (ISS Expedition 31).  Once they depart in early July, we will be joined by Astronaut Suni Williams, Japanese Astronaut Aki Hoshide and Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (ISS Expedition 32).

Due to the facts that I will be launching on a Russian vehicle and the true international nature of the Space Station, my training has taken me to Russia, Canada, Japan and Germany.  All of my US, Canada,  Japan and Germany training was completed by the first week of April.  On April 8, I arrived in Star City, Russia to complete the final training and examinations on the Russian segments of the ISS and the Soyuz spacecraft.  These extensive exams took place over a 2-day period and are an important milestone on our path to launch.  We worked well as a crew, passed our exams and showed that we are ready to embark on this journey.  After final exams, we were given a few days of crew rest.  This is a critical time to not only rest the body, but to get things in order before you leave the planet in order to put your mind at rest.  On May 2, we had the traditional farewell breakfast in Star City before we boarded our plane to Baikonur.

Why do we arrive in Baikonur 2 weeks before launch?  There are many final preparations that need to be done and you want to do them at a pace where the crew can be assured to launch well rested. 

Our second day in Baikonur was very important and one of my favorites, of course not including launch day.  This was our first opportunity to get in our actual vehicle, both in regular flight suits and our Sokol space suits.  Just as I experienced with my shuttle flight in 2009, no matter how good a training model is, there is no substitute for being in the real deal.  It was also an opportunity to “leak test” our space suits one more time before the day of launch, in which we will do our final leak check.  If any off nominal event was to occur, these suits are our first line of defense.  In a few days, we will do our final visit to the vehicle once it is fully packed.  In the meantime, we have various classes and briefings, we review flight procedures and remain in a quarantine status.  Family and friends that are coming out for launch will arrive in a few days.  Even though it will be in a very controlled environment, it will be great to see them.  From my family, it will be my mom, dad and sister.

I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to contribute to our collective exploration of space.  While the astronauts and cosmonauts are the most visible members, we are the smallest of a truly monumental team that consists of trainers, flight control teams, engineers, technicians, scientists and doctors, to name a few.  The science being conducted aboard the ISS could not be done without the efforts of each person involved.  I thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to an international space program.  I would also like to thank everyone reading this for your support.  I truly believe the work we are doing does and will continue to have concrete benefits.