Southern Lights

July 15, 2012

Our time of solitude is rapidly coming to an end.  Ournew crew mates successfully launched very early this morning.  With the 2days they spend in autonomous flight to reach us, they will arrive around 4 am * on July 17.  All of the preparations have been made for theirarrival.  Since it was not too long ago that I arrived, I clearly rememberthose first few days on the ISS.  While the traditional hatch opening andhaving the opportunity to talk with family and friends that made the trip toRussia are wonderful experiences, I remember being tired and wantingdesperately to take a “bath” and put on some regular clean clothes.  Whilewe do have facilities on the Soyuz and lots of opportunities to take cat naps,it sure was nice to be home on the relatively spacious Space Station. While all of the new crew members have been here before, we will do all we canto make the transition as comfortable as possible.  For Gennady, Sergeyand I, we will begin another sleep shift tomorrow.  We will wake up at ournormal time of 6 am and are scheduled to go to sleep at 3:30 pm with a wake upat midnight.  The day of docking is a long day for all of the crews and wewill be back to a normal schedule on Wednesday.  As I mentionedpreviously, HTV will be arriving 10 days later so we will all hit the roadrunning.


Knowing what is ahead, Gennady, Sergey and I thoroughlyenjoyed the weekend.  While some work had to be done, overall it was anopportunity for us to recharge our personal batteries and just enjoy thetime.  We were rewarded with the results of the recent solar activity –the southern lights.  I remember seeing the auroras during my Shuttleflight and I thought it was the coolest thing.  Then I arrived this timeand Don Pettit showed me the auroras and they were much, much better than whatI seen previously.  I was happy as could be.  Then on Saturday, I wasworking out and in between sets I saw that we were heading south during a nightpass.  So I decided my workout could be postponed for a few minutes and Iturned out all of the lights in Node 3.  Within a couple of minutes, Icould not believe what I was seeing.  It was absolutely incredible. I enjoyed the show for a few minutes and then felt I had to inform my crewmates so they could also take in the view.  Even Gennady, with all of histime on orbit, was amazed.  I am no expert with a camera but I tried tocapture at least a small reminder of the experience.  The pictures werenot great, but they would do.  So today, at around the same time of day, Ithought I would take one more look.  Just when you think it can’t get muchbetter, it gets way better.  I of course took some obligatory pictures,but then I just sat in the dark, in the peace and quiet of this incredible manmade, orbiting laboratory and just looked out the window in awe.  What atruly magnificent planet we live on and solar system we live in.  I couldnot have asked for a better way to mark the middle of my Expedition and tostart what will be a challenging and rewarding time on the International SpaceStation.

* Since astronaut Joe Acaba is writing from the International Space Station, the time references in this post are GMT. 

Friends, Old and New

Expedition 31 crew members pose for a photo in the Unity node of the International Space Station. Pictured on the front row are Commander Oleg Kononenko (center), Andre Kuipers (right) and Don Pettit, both flight engineers. In the back row (from left) are Flight Engineers Joe Acaba, Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin.

It is hard to believe how quickly the time has gone by. My lack of blogging is directly proportional to how busy things have been. As I write this, I am one of the three people on the ISS and the only American. It is pretty cool. The other three members of Expedition 31 went home last Sunday morning with an undocking around 4 am. It was sad to see them go. Anytime you experience a unique situation with someone, a certain bond is forged. It was the same with the friends I made as a Peace Corps Volunteer or crew members on my Space Shuttle flight (STS-119). I am sure you have friends like that. I will forever be grateful to Don, Andre and Oleg for the way we were received when we arrived, their sharing of experience, and for just being good friends. We had a great time working together. I wish them all the best as they get accustomed to life back on Earth. I know they were all anxious to get back to their families. There is a lot that needs to happen as you prepare to go home. The Soyuz is a small vehicle which would seem to make packing for return simple. However, with its small size comes the challenge of prioritizing items for return and making them all fit. Then crew members need to clean up their home for the past 6 months and consolidate all of the gear (both regular and electronic) they have been using. Don said his goal while cleaning up was that nobody would ever know he was here. Sorry Don, the impact you had on this Laboratory will never be forgotten. Somewhere in between all the work, you need to spend that quality time looking out the window and just enjoy the moment. No one knows if or when they might return to this unique Outpost. The 4 am undocking meant a sleep shift for the entire crew. It made for a long day for everyone. The departing crew still had another 4 hours until landing and then they start the long ride back to Houston. It is hard to imagine that within approximately 24 hours after undocking from the Space Station, one can be back at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Gennady, Sergey, and I worked until approximately 9 am and then tried to get some rest. We shifted back and were on a normal work cycle starting Tuesday morning.

I have heard many astronauts tell me that some of their favorite time on orbit was when there was a reduced crew size. It is an interesting situation. With only 3 people, we have more responsibilities. I can no longer ask Don or Andre where I might find a certain tool or what is the best way to access a certain piece of equipment. You hope you have learned what you need to get the job done. The great thing is that we have the Mission Control Centers guiding and helping us. Again, the importance of the team concept. However, there is something peaceful about waking up in the morning to a darkened Space Station and floating out of your crew quarters. At the end of a work day, you can spend time looking at Earth and getting lost in your thoughts. Or you can crank up the tunes and get in a great workout with Earth in the background and not have to worry about disturbing anybody. It is a great time for self reflection. I think I know what they meant about this time. I will enjoy these days because as busy as we have been up to now, things are going to get exciting soon. In the last half of my mission we will have of course the arrival of our new crew mates (we anxiously await the arrival of Suni, Aki, and Yuri on July 17). With a new crew come new enthusiasm, expertise, and many good memories, an undocking and re-docking then final undocking of a Progress vehicle, the arrival of HTV3, the arrival of another Progress, a Russian Spacewalk, and an American Spacewalk. I can’t wait.