We're Getting the Band Back Together

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The Expedition 28 crew is at full strength with the Thursday night arrival to the International Space Station of Mike Fossum, Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa. They joined Commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and myself.

We Are Not Alone

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Worked on the spacesuits that will be used by Mike Fossum and myself for spacewalks next month during the STS-135 mission. Meet Huey and Louie, Louie.
Spoke with students from South West College, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland via Amateur Radio.
Most of the day was spent on a network upgrade for the more than thirty laptops on the Space Station.

Three Ships Pass In The Night – Part III

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Welcome to “Three Ships Pass in the Night” Part III, the story of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s visit to the International Space Station through a series of short recollections:
The “Three Ships” refer to the International Space Station, the docking and undocking of Space Shuttle Endeavour and the undocking of the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft that returned Dmitry Kondratyev, Cady Coleman, and Paolo Nespoli to Earth.
After spending almost two months in space with Dima, Cady and Paolo, I was sad to see them leave. They spent a great deal of time getting me up to speed on all the procedures, systems and life in general aboard the Space Station. They all did a great job during their six months up here.

“@Astro_Ron: Yesterday just before Dima @Astro_Paolo + @Astro_Cady closed the hatch on their Soyuz ride home #FromSpace” 
Tweeted 24 May 2011
On the day of the Soyuz undocking, the combined Space Station and Space Shuttle crews were on a split sleep schedule. The Shuttle crew and I were on one sleep schedule, and the rest of the Station crew on another.
I was supposed to be asleep before we closed the Soyuz-ISS hatches. Instead, I stayed awake to say goodbye to our friends at hatch closing, planning to go to sleep before undocking. An alarm on the Station changed that plan.
Shortly after I went to bed, a minor alarm woke me up. This led to a couple of hours of work, bringing the time very close to undocking. Since I was up anyway, I watched the undocking and fly around of the Soyuz. 
It was decided that after undocking the Soyuz would back away from the Space Station and then the Station would slowly rotate to provide different backdrops for an historic photo shoot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked to the Space Station. This also gave me the opportunity to take pictures of the Soyuz as it backed away. 
I’m very happy Dima, Cady and Paolo had a safe landing in Kazakhstan and that they’re all back with their families. I’m saving the Shuttle farewell story for a future installment called “Storm in the Milky Way.”

“@Astro_Ron: On their way home @Astro_Paolo is in the Soyuz window taking historic pics of the #ISS + #Endeavour #FromSpace” 
Tweeted 24 May 2011
Bumps and Bangs and the Wayward Bolt
During Endeavour’s mission, the STS-134 crew conducted four spacewalks. Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and I were responsible for getting the guys in their spacesuits, carrying out the methodical and involved process of getting them safely out the door for each one. 
After each spacewalk began, I went about other activities and responsibilities until the guys were ready to come back inside. Normally, a spacewalk lasts anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, so I had some time to get some great pictures of the guys outside from the cupola, and occasionally from the nadir docked Soyuz.
“@Astro_Ron: Drew Feustel coming back inside today #FromSpace after a hard day at the office Px taken from the 25S Soyuz”  
Tweeted 20 May 2011
During breaks in the action, I would fly into my crew quarters and send out a picture or two of the spacewalkers via Twitter. It was really strange to be in my crew quarters sending a picture out of two guys out in the vacuum of space while I could hear them banging and clunking around outside the Space Station. It reminded me of trying to do work at home on Earth while construction was going on next door.
“@Astro_Ron: #FromSpace : Drew @AstroIronMike from the cupola #highaltitudeconstruction” 
Tweeted 25 May 2011
During the spacewalk, a bolt that Mike Fincke was loosening with the very high tech Pistol Grip Tool (PGT) broke off and floated away. Mark Kelly and I went to the cupola, and sure enough, we could see a shiny new satellite tumbling away toward the Earth’s horizon. We took pictures and video of it to help Mission Control determine the bolt’s trajectory and whether or not it would pose a threat to the Space Station. It didn’t.

“@Astro_Ron: @ShuttleCDRKelly + I sitting on top of the world – px taken by @AstroIronMike while out in the vacuum of space”  
Tweeted 26 May 2011
The Pope

During Endeavour’s mission, we were honored to speak live with Pope Benedict XVI from the Vatican. The Pope had some prepared words for us, and he asked some questions. 
Pope Benedict XVI asked me:
“One of the things you have discussed concerns a responsibility we all have toward the future of our planet. I recall the serious risks facing the environment and the survival of future generations. Scientists tell us we have to be careful and from an ethical point of view, we must develop our conscience as well. From your extraordinary observation point how do you see the situation on Earth? Do you see signs of phenomena to which we need to be more attentive?”
Transcript of my answer:
“Your Holiness it is a great honor to speak with you. You’re right, it really is an extraordinary vantage point we have up here. On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet we have been given is. but on the other hand, we can clearly see how fragile it is. The atmosphere. for instance, when viewed from space looks paper-thin, and to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing on our planet from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us, is really a sobering thought. You really have a sense here as you look down at our planet hanging in the blackness of space, that we are all on this together; riding on this beautiful, fragile oasis through the universe. It really fills us with a lot of hope to think that all of us on board this incredible orbiting Space Station, that was built by the many nations of our international partnership — to accomplish this tremendous feat in orbit shows that by working together and cooperating — we can solve many of the problems facing our planet, and overcome many of the challenges that face the inhabitants of our planet. It really is a wonderful place to live and work and it is a wonderful place to view our beautiful Earth.”
I’m going to break for now. Hopefully the next installment of Endeavour’s visit to the International Space Station will include my first video blog (I think it will be the first video blog from space). The remaining topics on this post are:
  • Our Italian Restaurant
  • Yuri Gagarin has Arrived at the Space Station
  • A Cloud of Luminescent Vapor
  • High Altitude Home Repairs
  • Everyone Loves Ice Cream
  • The Storm in the Milky Way

Three Ships Pass In The Night – Part II

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Welcome to “Three Ships Pass in the Night” Part II, the story of Space Shuttle Endeavour’s visit to the International Space Station.
Things are back to normal after the departure of the Space Shuttle and the crew of STS-134. I’ll tell the story of their visit in a series of short recollections.
A Rendezvous with Endeavour
On Wednesday, May 18th, the Expedition 27 crew aboard the ISS spent the morning getting ready for the arrival of our visitors.
Just after lunch — or what we on the ISS call “the mid-day meal” — all the ISS crewmembers gathered in the Russian Service Module as Endeavour arrived 600 meters below. 
Cady, Paolo and Dima each positioned themselves in one of the six Earth facing windows to photograph Endeavour’s thermal protection system (heat shield).  Cady had a 400mm lens, Paolo an 800mm lens and Dima used a 1000mm lens. I was armed with a stopwatch in each hand, and the plan for how we were going to document Endeavour’s red carpet arrival. 
After pausing 600 meters below us, Endeavour began a 360 degree flip so that the bottom of the orbiter would be visible to us on the Space Station. The photo-documentation of the underside of the Space Shuttle is used to clear the Shuttle for re-entry and landing after the docked mission is complete.  Through most of the maneuver we were two spacecrafts traveling over Europe. The view was just beautiful. But the most beautiful view of all was what we did not see: any obvious serious damage to Endeavour’s heat shield.
After the flip and hundreds of pictures, Commander Mark Kelly guided Endeavour in front of us to slowly back-in for docking. As I mentioned in my last post, during the docking Dima and I were at the controls of the U.S. and Russian motion control systems.  This was to ensure that the Space Station stopped controlling attitude at the moment of docking in order to accomplish a safe docking.
After docking, we still had a couple of hours of work to do before we could open the hatch and say hello to our visitors. After the pressure between the Shuttle and the Station was equalized and all checks were complete, Paolo and I opened the forward facing hatch of the Harmony Module and greeted the crew of STS-134.
After some quick hellos, Dima gave the Shuttle crew an initial safety briefing before taking the crew on a tour of the Station, pointing out the location of safety equipment to be used in the case of an emergency onboard.
Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and Space Station Commander Dmitry Kondratiev
Hurricane Endeavour
A Space Shuttle mission has been described as a sprint in comparison to the marathon pace of a six-month Space Station mission. That difference was apparent as soon as the hatch was opened, and the two-week flurry of activity began in earnest.
At any given moment, crewmembers could be found operating the Space Station’s robotic arm from the cupola, while others were operating the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm. Crew were loading and unloading cargo, repairing Space Station systems, conducting media interviews, conducting scientific experiments, or working outside in the vacuum of space to put the finishing touches on Space Station construction. I don’t think there was a time during the docked mission when someone was not in motion from one part of the Space Station to another.
An Easy Commute to Work
It is very interesting to see people first arrive onboard the space station. Even though crews have a couple of days to get reacquainted with the experience of being in space, entering the relatively wide open spaces of the Station requires a whole new adjustment period. In the confines of the Space Shuttle or the Soyuz, you’re never more than a few inches from something to hold on to. To move around on these spacecraft, you simply move hand over hand, grabbing on to whatever is “handy”. On the Space Station, we move from one place to another by flying. You simply push off with your feet like Superman and fly in any direction you desire. 
This new freedom does take some time to get used to, and it takes some time to master. It’s very entertaining to watch others get their “wings” as I’m sure I was amusing to watch upon my arrival. Eventually all the precision moves of an Olympic gymnast on a gold medal dismount find their way into an acrobatic routine.  Moving large objects around the Space Station is especially interesting. It’s always fun to give massive objects a nudge in the direction you want them to move, and then simply hold on as their large mass drags you along like hitching a ride on the back of a dolphin. Of course you can’t forget you’re also responsible for the brakes too!
I’m going to close here for now, but to whet you appetite for future installments of Endeavor’s visit, here’s a list of the topics I plan to write  about:
  •  Our Italian Restaurant   
  •  The Pope   
  •  Bumps, Bangs and the Wayward Bolt   
  •  Yuri Gagarin has Arrived at the Space Station   
  •  Farewells   
  •  A Cloud of Luminescent Vapor   
  •  High Altitude Home Repairs
  •  Everyone Loves Ice Cream   
  •  The Storm in the Milky Way

Three Ships Pass In The Night – Part I

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Greetings from the International Space Station. I am enjoying some time off after an incredibly busy two weeks. Since my last post, the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked, and then undocked after a very successful and productive mission. As I write this, the Endeavour crew is making final preparations for their return to Earth after sixteen-days in space. In the middle of Endeavor’s mission, half of the International Space Station crew departed for home in their Soyuz spacecraft. Dmitry Kondratiev, Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli are safely home on Earth.
Originally, the Soyuz was scheduled to undock after Endeavor’s mission, but the delay in her launch to the Space Station led to the Soyuz leaving while the shuttle was docked – a first, and a thrill.
On their way home @Astro_Paolo is in the Soyuz window taking historic pics of the #ISS + #Endeavour #FromSpace
On the day of Endevor’s rendezvous and docking, Dima and I positioned ourselves at the central post of the Russian Service module. I was manning a computer that controls the systems of the US Operating Segment (USOS), and Dima was at a computer that controls the systems of the Russian Segment (RS). At the moment of docking I sent a computer command for the space station to stop controlling attitude and go into free drift. Dima was at the ready to send the same command through the Russian systems, if necessary. Everything worked perfectly, and the final docking of Endeavour to the International Space Station went smoothly and beautifully. 
: Dima and I supporting the docking of Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the crew of STS-134
The past couple of weeks have been filled with many new and incredible sights and experiences, but I’m going to save those for the next installment of this story about Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last trip to the International Space Station. Please stay tuned.
Room for One More? Expedition 27 and STS-134 crews

Beginnings and Endings: Lots in Between

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I’m about to start my seventh week in space. 
It will be busy one – with the docking of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the crew of STS-134, and then a few days later, the undocking of the Soyuz spacecraft that will return to Earth with Dima, Paolo and Cady after almost six months in space.  
Dima, Cady and Paolo (not shown) practicing for their return to Earth aboard the same Soyuz spacecraft that brought them to space.
Dima, Cady and Paolo (not shown) practicing for their return to Earth aboard the same Soyuz spacecraft that brought them to space.
During this period of relative calm before the proverbial storm, I’d like to reflect on some of the amazing experiences I’ve been having. 
Earth at Night
One of my favorite things to do is to look at the Earth at night. It’s hard to describe how beautiful it is to see the sun set, and then the Earth come to life from space. In the period between sunset on the ground and the orbital sunset, it’s hard to see anything on the ground. The space station is still bathed in bright sunlight, while the Earth is dark. But when the sun sets behind the Earth from our orbital vantage point, our planet takes on a completely different character. Geographical features become visible, and the lights of cities and towns begin to light up the Earth.  
But when the sun sets behind the Earth from our orbital vantage point, the Earth takes on a completely different character. Geographical features start to become visible and the lights of cities and towns begin to light up the Earth.
From space, city lights.
A Floating Planetarium
One night last week, I turned off all the interior lights near the Cupola, opened the window shutters, and just took in the view. 
After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the Milky Way, planets and countless stars became visible. I floated there for the entire night pass (about 45 minutes), watching the incredible night sky and the living Earth with rolling lightening storms below me. Because of our motion around the Earth, the stars and Milky Way seemed to rotate around us as if we were in a floating planetarium.  Seeing a shooting star below me was a special treat near the end of the pass. Since we are above any meteors entering the atmosphere, we see them below us (or more specifically between us and the Earth).
Staying Connected
Another interesting aspect of living on the International Space Station is feeling simultaneously more connected and less connected to life on the planet. Living here, I am isolated from my life on Earth. At the same time, events on Earth, such as the flooding of the Mississippi River, offer the opportunity for a unique connection. As we fly over the area, we can see the effects of the swelling river across many states.
The swollen Mississippi River from Space
The swollen Mississippi River from space.
We also have some technology to stay connected to home and to you. In addition to an IP (Internet) phone which we can use to call friends and loved ones on Earth, we also have access to the Internet through a remote desktop. Whenever we have the proper satellite communications coverage, I can remotely control a computer located in Houston. This is what enables me to Tweet my experiences in almost real time and to answer your questions. So now you know!
Through our communications technology, I was also able to speak to a team of people in Kenya as they where about to embark on the largest privately funded deployment of clean water systems in the world. 
Speaking to the team in Kenya
Connected to some of the team in Kakamega, Kenya
It was an incredible experience to talk to a group of people I’m involved with independent of my work with NASA, who are providing clean water to over 4 million Kenyans. 
It is wonderful to be able to connect with projects and people making the world a better place, and being able to fly over these areas and see them from this incredible vantage point. All of us on our planet are connected through our shared humanity – even those of us living in space. 
A Mystery
The final experience I’ll share in this post is actually a mystery to me. On May 9th, I conducted my first Ham Radio pass from space. The event was with Mt. Carmel Academy in Houston TX.  The plan was for me to make initial contact with a Ham operator in Belgium as we flew overhead, who would then patch me over to the school. 
As we approached Belgium, I put on the ham radio headset and heard the voice of my close friend and STS-133 crewmember Nicole Stott giving what sounded like a presentation. It turns out that the crew of STS-133 was at that very moment giving the STS-133 post flight presentation at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. I was able to listen for about 5 minutes before I lost that signal. I was also able to make contact with Mt. Carmel Academy, and answer their great questions about life in space. I still don’t know how I was able to hear the STS-133 presentation. If anyone has an idea about how that happened, I’d love to hear it!
Expedition 28
This is probably my last post as an ISS Expedition 27 crewmember.  Expedition 27 will end with the undocking of the crew aboard the Soyuz, and their return to Earth. Then, Expedition 28 begins.  In my next post I hope to describe the successful completion of Expedition 27 and STS-134, and the beginning of Expedition 28. Please stay tuned.  
Expedition 27 and Expedition 28 mission patches
Expedition 27 and Expedition 28 mission patches.