Monthly Archives: May 2011

Reporting Live From The Baikonur Cosmodrome

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Originally posted at fragileoasis.org

Here I sit inthe quarantine facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Wearrived on Monday the 21st of March after a wonderful send off in Star City,Russia.

Crewmates Ron Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Andrey Borisenko just before boarding the plane for a 3 and 1/2 hour flight from Star City to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

CrewmatesRon Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Andrey Borisenko just before boarding theplane for a 3 and 1/2 hour flight from Star City to the Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan.

Our departureday started with a breakfast in our honor at the Gagarin Cosmonaut TrainingCenter where several dignitaries wished us well and then each of the crewmembers said a few words of thanks to everyone who prepared us for thisjourney. We then had a brief press conference near a memorial statue of YuriGagarin before boarding buses to the military airfield to start our 3 ½ hourflight to Baikonur. In the spirit of “You can’t put all your eggs in onebasket,” the prime crew flew on one aircraft and the backup crew on another.

 

After landing inKazakhstan, we were greeted by local and Russian Space Agency dignitariesbefore boarding the crew buses (the vehicles we will ride in to the launch pad)to the quarantine facility (the prime crew on one bus and the backup crew onanother). We had a police escort for the 15 minute ride through the city ofBaikonur to the quarantine facility.

Tuesday was theday for our first “Fit Check.” The day started with a 20 minute ride throughthe desert to the launch complex and Soyuz processing facility. After arrivingat the Soyuz processing facility, the prime and backup crews reported to theState Commission (on the other side of a large window) and then took turnsclimbing inside our spacecraft.

 

Walking into thelarge hanger that contains various huge pieces that will soon become one largerocket, the first thing I saw was our rocket fairing. The rocket fairing willencapsulate our spacecraft at launch until we get high enough in the atmospherewhere it can be jettisoned. On the fairing was a large painting of YuriGagarin, The word “GAGARIN” in large red letters going down the side, an emblemdesignating this as the 50th anniversary rocket, along with Russian andAmerican flags.

Words cannotdescribe what an honor it is to have our launch coincide with the 50thanniversary of humanity’s first step into the Cosmos. As I stood there andlooked at this incredible sight, it dawned on me that fifty years ago one nationlaunched one man into space and made that first step toward the humanexploration of space. Today, 50 years later, the three of us on our crewrepresent the many nations of the partnership that is the International SpaceStation. Everyone in the partnership does not always agree with each other, butthe strength of our partnership is that we are together, and we support eachother in good times and bad.

I remember afterthe Columbia tragedy all the partners stood with NASA and together wepersevered. Today we all stand with our Japanese colleagues as they overcomethe tragedy of the earthquake. We all have proven that by workingtogether we can accomplish amazing things including constructing in orbit themost complex structure ever built, the International Space Station. If we cando that in space, imagine what we can do working together to solve the challengesfacing our planet!

 After spendingsome time inside our spacecraft getting acquainted with the ship called“Gagarin,” the prime and backup crews each took turns getting into ourspacesuits and strapping into the spacecraft. Being in the spacecraft we willactually fly in, wearing our actual spacesuits was a great experience.

The Soyuzspacecraft is very cramped and every inch of available space is taken up byeither crew or cargo, but after spending so much time training inside the Soyuzsimulators it actually feels very comfortable.

 The highlight ofWednesday was the Flag Raising Ceremony. During the ceremony, which marks thebeginning of this launch flow, we heard words from local and Russian SpaceAgency dignitaries before the prime and backup crews raised the Russian,American and Kazakh flags. Following the ceremony we conducted media interviewsand had an opportunity to walk the grounds of the quarantine facility and getsome fresh air.

 

The remaining 1½ weeks left before launch will consist of procedure reviews, refresherclasses, and participating in many more traditions that I hope to journalfurther in this blog.

The FragileOasis team is very close to going live with the new site which will include theFragile Oasis on-line community. I encourage everyone to join the community andbecome a Fragile Oasis Crewmember so that you can follow along with this andfuture missions not just as spectators but as participants.

 I also want tolet everyone know that I plan on sending out tweets right up to launch withbehind-the-scenes pictures. I will do this myself as long as I can. When I’m nolonger able to tweet myself, my backup, Astronaut Dan Burbank will take overfor me. We are using the hashtag #ToOrbit whichfor me means “Reporting Live from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.” When DanBurbank is tweeting for me he will add ^DB to the tweets. Please stay tuned andplease help spread the word about the live Twitter coverage here.

Last Blog Post On Earth. For Now.

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Yes, this is my last blog post on Earth (at least for awhile) but hopefully, shortly after we arrive on the Space Station, I can start posting again. Here I sit in my quarantine room a day before launch. The last week was spent conducting review classes, going over our procedures, checking out our spacecraft systems and provisions and participating in prelaunch traditions.
One of the traditions we participated in was the planting of our trees. Every cosmonaut or astronaut who has launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome since Yuri Gagarin, has planted a tree with his or her name on it in the grove not far from the quarantine facility. Yuri’s is pretty big now (It’s exactly 50 years old).
Photo Credit: NASA
The buzz around the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight is really starting to pick up. Many dignitaries are starting to arrive and we have been conducting a lot of media interviews concerning the historical significance of this anniversary.
Photo Credit: NASA
For me, it is an incredibly significant milestone in the history of humanity. On that April 12th in 1961, humanity made a giant leap in our evolution as a species. We instantly became a species that was no longer confined to the boundaries of our Earth. On that day, we were no longer a single planet species. My fellow bloggernaut, Don Pettit likes to say, “If the Dinosaurs had a space program, they’d be still around.” I agree that our US and international space programs are crucial to our future.
As I said in my last post, another really important aspect of what we are celebrating in recognizing this anniversary is the international cooperation that was born out of the space program. There is no doubt in my mind that the world is a safer and more peaceful place today than it would be otherwise if we had not taken that first step into space. Even at the height of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. still somehow found a way to cooperate during the Apollo-Soyuz program, which accomplished the first docking of US and Russian spacecraft.
Photo Credit: NASA
One of the pre-launch traditions that Alexander Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and I were not able to take part in as the prime crew was the rollout of our rocket and spacecraft. Today, in the early morning hours, a train carrying our rocket left the huge hanger of the vehicle assembly building and made the short journey to the launch pad.
Photo Credit: Jake Garan
With all our guests and our backup crew in attendance the rocket was erected to the vertical launch position onto the same launch pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from 50 years ago.
Having watched this before when I was a backup for Scott Kelly’s mission, I can say it is quite a sight to see the clash between the old and the new. Against the backdrop of grazing camels, it was a beautiful sight to see this train carrying one of only a couple of vehicles that is capable of carrying humans beyond our atmosphere. The swiftness that the rocket is readied for launch is truly amazing. Over the course of what seems like less than an hour the rocket goes from riding on the back of a train to standing tall on the launch pad.
Photo Credit: Jake Garan
After rollout, we were very fortunate to be able to spend a little time with our family members and other guests who were able to make it to Baikonur for launch. I am very grateful to those people were able to make it, and to those who tried but unfortunately were not able to attend. We really had a wonderful day with each crew-member’s guests. It was a very special experience watching everyone get to know each other as we all shared this unique experience.
Later today we will go before the State Commission and each of us will have the opportunity to say a few words. Following the meeting with the State Commission we will have a press conference from behind the glass separating us from the media before we watch the traditional prelaunch movie “Белое Cолнце Пустыни” (White Sun of the Desert). I’m not sure exactly when this tradition started, but every crew for probably at least the last 15 years has watched this film before launch. I think this is one of those traditions that nobody really knows why we do it.
After the movie the crew heads to bed for the last time on Earth for the next 5 1//2 months. After 2 ½ years of training I think each of us is ready to get to work and to do our best to accomplish our mission objectives.
As I have said on this blog before, one of my personal mission objectives is to use the unique perspective of living and working in space to inspire people to make the world a better place. I really think if everyone could see what we see from space, we would have a lot fewer problems and everyone would be more inclined to help each other. Since we all can’t have this experience, I will do my best to share it with all I can, as best I can.
The highlights for tomorrow will be signing the doors of our quarantine rooms, receiving a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest, boarding buses for the 20 minute ride through the desert to the launch facility, changing into our spacesuits, then reporting to the State Commission before re-boarding the bus for the 5 minute ride to the launch pad.  After arriving at the launch pad, we will pause for a brief photo oppurtunity at the base of the rocket before we climb in and strap ourselves in for the ride. Then the candle will be lit at 6:18pm (Eastern) and our journey will begin!
I’m going to sign off now for the last time on this planet. Over the next 5 ½ months I will do my best to bring everyone along with us on this mission; not as spectators but as participants and fellow crewmembers. When our new Fragile Oasis site is up and running, I encourage everyone to join and become crewmembers. Please help us to spread the word about Fragile Oasis. Let’s try and get as many people as possible to share in the experience.
Fragile Oasis Bloggernauts
Also remember that on launch day Dan Burbank will tweet behind the scenes video and pictures from my twitter account  http://twitter.com/Astro_Ron. He will use the hashtag #ToOrbit and sign his name ^DB.
In the words of Yuri Gagarin as he left the launch pad on that historic day, Поехали “WE’RE OFF!”
What Kind of World Do You Want?

My First Blog Post From Space

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Originally posted at fragileoasis.org
Greetings from the International Space Station. This blog was actually written while onboard the Soyuz during the 2-day trip from launch to the space station.  But I’m now down linking it from the space station – enjoy:

April 4th 2011, the crew of Soyuz TMA-21 woke up at about 8:30am, we were able to spend an hour or so with our families, then we packed up our belongings, ate lunch and went back to bed.

Traditional signing of the door to our new crew quarters.

We then started our “real” day at 7:00pm. After dinner, we met with some of the Russian Space Agency managers before we began the launch ceremonies. Starting with the traditional signing of the doors of our crew quarters rooms, we then received a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest and made our way to the buses that would take us to the launch facility. Many friends, family and co-workers lined the route to the buses and gave us a great send off!

It was a very quiet 20 minute ride through the pitch-black desert to the Baikonur Launch Facility. As we were waiting to change into our spacesuits at the launch facility, we watched a very nice send-off video with messages from the friends and family of each of us on the crew (I really appreciated that).

After changing into our Sokol spacesuits, we had a brief meeting with the State Commision.  With friends, family, and visiting dignitaries in attendance, and with the State Commission on one side of a large glass window and the crew on the other, we had our last few words with the managers who represent the many people who worked to get everything ready for launch.

After the meeting with the State Commission and giving our final report we boarded buses for the launch pad. As the bus pulled away we were able to wave goodbye to those people in attendance that are special to us in our last face-to-face contact for the next 6-months.

As the bus pulled away we were able to wave goodbye to those people in attendance that our special to us in our last face-to-face contact for the next 6-months

Arriving at the launch pad we were greeted by a very memorable sight. The rocket was completely covered in a layer of white ice. We could hear the rocket venting and the sight of the white oygen vapor being bathed in the floodlights on the very early morning hours of April 5th was sight to be seen. The whole launch process was steeped in tradition – even the walk from the bus was symbolic.

As we walked to the foot of the launch pad, space program senior managers held us on both sides as we walked. This was very good because it’s hard to walk in those spacesuits

As we walked to the foot of the launch pad, space program senior managers held us on both sides as we walked. This was very good because it’s hard to walk in those spacesuits! But, I also think they represented the many thousands of people who actually helped bring us to this launch. One of those in my case was Mike Suffredini, head of NASA’s International Space Station program.

In an interesting tradition I was not aware of, each of us received a kick in the butt from one of the senior Russian Space program managers as we stepped toward the ladder to the launch pad   – as if to provide one last measure of encouragement to launch.

The three crewmembers and one technician rode the elevator through clouds of liquid oxygen to the top of the rocket. Each of us signed the entry hatch and climbed inside and took our respective places in the capsule.

During the hours of launch prep there were times when the crew really had nothing to do but wait. During those periods music was played over our headsets. One of the songs I really enjoyed listening to was “One” by U2.

Lying in our seats before launch was actually very peaceful.  We periodically felt vibrations and valves opening and closing, and we heard fans and motors turning on and off, but through all that I felt a peaceful reassurance that everything was ready to go. The vehicle definitely felt alive and ready. Laying there strapped to the rocket I thought about all those people that are close to me that were watching there in Baikonur, on TV or online.

About 10 seconds before the planned liftoff we could hear and feel the engines start. When the clock hit zero, we could feel ourselves being propelled upward. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of  the launch of the first human to space, Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev calmly said,  “In the words of Yuri Gararin, Поехали.” (We’re off.).  I, on the other hand, let loose with a spontaneous  “Woo Hoo!”

The 1st stage of the launch had a lot less vibration than I remember from my Shuttle launch. The 2nd stage separation however was quite an event, which led to my second “Woo Hoo!”

After our rocket fairing bearing the name and likeness of  Yuri Gagarin jettisoned, exposing the windows of our capsule, I watched my 1st of many orbital sunrises. The launch was actually significantly more fun than I had anticipated. After we got to space I felt like Fred Randal from the movie “Rocket Man.” I wanted to yell out, “Can we do that again” but restrained myself. After launch it was probably at least another 4 hours until I was out of my seat and out of my spacesuit.

A few minutes after launch


After a few hours of procedures and maneuvers to put our spacecraft on the proper course to “catch up” with the ISS, Alexander and I, like bats, hung our sleeping bags from the top of the Soyuz habitation compartment with our heads down to the hatch to the descent module with Andrey building his nest in the descent module. I usually find it hard to sleep in space but after such a long and exciting day I dropped right off.

As I write this, it is the morning of our first full day in space. I’m finding this experience much different than my experience on the Space Shuttle. Not just because it’s a smaller vehicle, but mainly because we only have brief periods of time, every few hours, when we have contact with the ground.

Basically it’s just the three of us in our little spacecraft, Sasha, Andrey and I, separated from everyone else in the world.

It really is an interesting place to be. The spacecraft slowly rotates about all 3 axes as it orbits the Earth (pitch, yaw, and roll). Looking out the window I felt like I was riding on a slowly tumbling leaf being blown around the world. The Soyuz spacecraft is a great and reliable ship and although it is a very small vehicle, it is surprisingly comfortable to live in on orbit (assuming you like the people you’re with – which I do!)

Thinking back over the last 24 hours in space I need to stop for a moment and express how amazed and impressed I am with my crewmates. Although this was the first flight for both Alexander & Andrey, they both adapted to weightless immediately and acted like they were seasoned, veteran cosmonauts. I know of no way to predict how people will react after arriving space for the first time, so I felt very fortunate to be a part of such a capable crew.

Between now and joining up with the space station, we will continue to adapt to our new environment, get our spacecraft ready for the docking, and look at our beautiful Earth while thinking of all of those people we said goodbye to, and won’t see for the next six months.

I’ve also been thinking of all the people who helped to make this experience wonderful for me personally: the people who were able to make it to the launch, those that couldn’t but supported us from home, and all the people who supported us in Baikonur. I am filled with gratitude to our family escorts, flight docs and managers, our instructors and Baikonur support staff.

I’m going to close for now. In my next post I hope to describe our first experiences after arriving on the International Space Station.

All the best from Earth orbit,

Ron

Our New Home

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Originally posted on fragileoasis.org

Arrival to the International Space Station was like something out of “2001 Space Odyssey!”

On the day of our rendezvous with the Space Station, Alexander (Sasha), Andrey and I changed back into our spacesuits, took our respective places in our Soyuz Descent Module and closed the hatch to the Habitation compartment.

The entire space station was pitched up 90 degrees and rotated 180 degrees so that the top of the space station was facing forward in relation to its path around the Earth.

We started out in front of the space station and slowly allowed the distance to close. As we closed inside of about 50 meters I could see the periphery of the Space Station out the side windows of our Soyuz capsule. As we got very close, the large radiators of the space station were passing very close to my window. I found myself wondering just how much clearance there was between the radiators and our Soyuz solar arrays.

In a scene that reminded me of pulling a car into a tight parking spot, we gently touched the docking port on the top of the space station as we watched the “Capture” light illuminate, signaling our arrival at our new home.

After a few hours of checks and procedures, we were ready to equalize the pressure between the two vehicles, open the hatches, and go aboard. It was great to see the smiling faces of our waiting crewmates on the other side of the hatch!

After a brief hello, we all floated down to the Japanese module where a live video feed was set up between Mission Control in Moscow and us. It was wonderful to hear the voices of family and friends who were gathered there.

My first impression of the station was, “Wow, it seems much bigger than the last time I was here.” This is because several modules have been added since my Space Shuttle flight in 2008. It is so big you could literally get lost.

Our New Home

The highlight of my orientation to the ISS was definitely my first exposure to the Cupola. Cady Coleman showed me how to open the window shutters that protect the seven panel windows that make up the cupola.

An extraordinary site greeted me as I opened the first shutter. We were on the dark side of the orbit, but off in the distance on the horizon was the blue band of orbital sunrise. In the middle of the blue band was a very bright crescent moon. It was breathtaking to see the curved blue band with a beautiful crescent moon in the middle of it — with nothing but pitch-black darkness on either side. What a welcome to the incredible part of the space station known as the cupola.

Since arriving, things have been very busy. I have been getting the “fire hose treatment.” It will be awhile before I learn everything that I need to know to operate here efficiently.

Paolo and I working around the space station

The International Space Station is the most amazing place I have ever been. Besides being enormous, it is a world class, fully functioning series of laboratories for conducting research about how humans can further explore our solar system, with direct application to improving life on Earth.

It is a really interesting place to live. Last night after dinner, Sasha and I took turns playing the guitar (I was confined to the five chords I know), while Cady played the flute.

Music is a really good way to maintain a connection to our life on Earth. I’ll close here for now as we  start of our first full week of work on board the ISS.

Saturday Morning in Space

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Originally posted at fragileoasis.org

As I write this, it’s Saturday morning April 16th, and I’m floating inside my little crew quarters with a drink bag full of hot coffee.
In the Node-2 module of the space station we have crew quarters for four, which are closet size living areas with lights, ventilation, computers and a sleeping bag in each.
The crew quarters in Node-2 are arranged in a circle around the module. One has its entrance on the deck, one on the starboard wall, one on the ceiling, and one on the port wall. Since I inherited the one under the deck (floor), I have affectionately dubbed it The Coffin. It is actually very comfortable. Once you’re inside, there’s no difference if you’re on the floor, wall, or ceiling. The only up or down is in relation to your “stuff.”

Crew Quarters

Our workweek ended just after 1:00am in the morning as the entire crew was rousted from bed by a master alarm alerting us of an electrical problem onboard. After some discussion with flight controllers in Houston, it was decided that Mission Control could handle the malfunction remotely, and we could all go back to bed. Life in space is certainly full of excitement.
Sasha checks out his new toolbelt
This was a week of settling in to our new world here. It was a week to really get acquainted with the normal routine of living and working in space.
The highlight of the week was definitely the April 12th celebration of  the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight to space, and the 30th anniversary of  the first Space Shuttle mission with John Young and Bob Crippen aboard.
We had a number of live television events throughout the day, including a conference with Russian president Dimitry Medvedev. In the evening, the entire crew gathered together in the Russian Service Module for a pot-luck dinner and a movie. We watched the Russian comedy, “Джентльмены Удачи”- “Gentlemen of Fortune.
Yuri's Night Dinner and a Movie
What a wonderful place to celebrate the first 50 years of human space flight! I couldn’t help but think as I floated there, breaking bread with representatives of three of the fifteen nations of the International Space Station partnership, that one of the most overlooked aspects of the legacy of the space program is the international cooperation that was born of our quest for the exploration of space. We have established a wonderful mechanism for international cooperation in space that could also be applied to solving the many challenges facing us on Earth.
Life on board the International Space Station is  interesting. A big part of our day is physical exercise. The human body is amazingly adaptive to new environments. Very quickly after arriving in a weightless environment, changes in our bodies occur so that we can function effectively. Unfortunately, not all of these changes are good.
The body “realizes” it doesn’t need as much muscle mass or even a skeleton anymore, so our bones begin to lose calcium and our muscles start to weaken. To counteract these negative effects, we exercise 2 hours a day.
On board the space station there is a wonderful suite of very effective exercise equipment. We have two treadmills, two stationary bikes and a very ingenious machine called the Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED) for “weight training.”
Exercising on the space station is definitely not boring. There’s something very inspiring about strapping yourself to do a set of bench presses while right in front of you — in the big center window of the cupola —  Australia is floating by.
The treadmill in the US section of the space station is oriented so that you are running feet forward and face down in relation to the ISS.
Running on the treadmill
On my first session on the treadmill, I ran approximately 3 miles. If I was actually traveling that distance in the direction I was facing, I would have decreased my altitude by 3 miles but over the course of my 30-minute session. I also traveled 8,622 miles around the Earth (not bad for my first time!).
I also had a session on the Russian stationary bike located in the Service Module. This bike is oriented in the same direction that the ISS is traveling.  There are also four windows on the floor in front of you through which you can watch the Earth while you exercise. In the course of my 30-minute session on the bike, I watched as we traveled from the south coast of Australia, across the Solomon Islands, the entire Pacific Ocean and across the SW coast of Canada.
This past week there a great number of scientific experiments were conducted. Some of the experiments were focused on the functioning of the human body (with the crew as test subjects).
Cady Coleman on the V02 Max
The ProK, and Nutrition studies seek to provide a better understanding of how nutrition affects processes such as bone loss, while the VO2 Max study seeks to provide a better understanding of the functioning of the human heart.
In the Maragoni Convection Experiment, flight controllers in Japan successfully created a “Maragoni Bridge.”  This experiment deals with the behavior of fluids and can provide a wide range of benefits on Earth including:
  • Improved silicon chip manufacturing which can lead to faster, more powerful and smaller computers
  • Improved capability to handle small volumes of liquids which can lead to advancements in new drugs, DNA examinations and analytical chemistry
  • Improved methods of removing heat from electronic devises
  • Higher quality materials
  • More effective welding techniques which provide stronger welds using less material
  • Advancements in micro and nano-technology
Of course, I also devoted some time to simply looking out the window.
Cady taking pictures in the Cupola
Besides watching some of the sixteen daily sunrises and sunsets, one of my favorite things to watch are lightening storms.
From space you can see a very large area over the Earth. Hundreds of lightening strikes are visible at the same time. These look like the flashes of a million paparazzi on Oscar night. It’s breathtaking to see the lightening strikes roll from one area to another.
I also had the opportunity to wave my immediate family members at the same time, even though they are spread over three cities in Texas. As we passed over South Texas I could see all the way from New Orleans to Brownsville.
The International Space Station Passes Over Houston, Texas
I’ll close here for now with the promise that when our new Fragile Oasis website is released, I will try my best to respond to as many comments as possible.

Happy Easter from The International Space Station

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For more information, please visit http://www.FragileOasis.org.

I am writing this very early Easter morning. I took pictures of the Holy Land and other areas in the region yesterday, April 23rd, and thought it appropriate to share with everyone.

Jerusalem
Jerusalem

It’s interesting that I’ve spent one Easter (2006) living on the bottom of the ocean during the NEEMO-9 mission and now I’m spending one in space.

Nile River
The Nile River

I understand how blessed I am to have the opportunity to celebrate Easter while marveling at God’s creation that we call home.

Israel and Egypt
Looking back to the southwest, toward Israel and Egypt

It really is true that the Earth looks very peaceful from space. It was surreal to be directly over Libya with a beautiful view to the east of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Libya, Egypt and Sudan
Near the borders of Libya, Egypt and Sudan

My Easter prayer is that all the inhabitants of our Fragile Oasis come to the realization that we are in this together; that we are all riding together through the universe on this spaceship we call Earth; that love and understanding can conquer all, and that nothing is impossible if we overcome our differences, and then work together to solve the problems facing our world.

Haifa
Haifa, in the foothills of Mount Carmel in Northern Israel