Happy Columbus Day: A Day to Celebrate Explorers Past & Present-The Launch of Expedition 25

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Pre-Dawn Rollout of the Soyuz Spacecraft (Photo Victor Zelentsov -NASA)

Here I sit at the airport in Moscow reflecting on the amazing events of the last two weeks and excited that after two months on the road (Germany, Russia & Kazakhstan), I’m heading home! In a strange coincidence, I should land in Houston at the same time that the Expedition-25 crew docks to the International Space Station. While I wait for my plane I’m starting this post to document the experience of launch week at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The week was filled with activity and tradition.

On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010, Expedition 25’s Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft rolled from the assembly building to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was an incredible sight to see this powerful rocket being pulled by rail against the back drop of the chilly Kazakh desert steppe at dawn. I estimate the trip from the assembly building to the launch pad took roughly an hour. After the spacecraft arrived at the launch pad, it was rotated to the vertical launch position. I was extremely impressed with the speed and efficiency of the entire operation.

This was the first rollout of the new TMA-01M spacecraft. The TMA-01M is a modified Soyuz spacecraft that features upgraded avionics and a digital cockpit display. It provides big improvements in the crew’s interface with the spacecraft.

Soyuz Spacecraft Rolls to the Launch Pad (Photo: Victor Zelentsov – NASA)

Soyuz Spacecraft Rolls to the Launch Pad (Photo: Victor Zelentsov – NASA)

The last full day before launch was a busy one. The prime and backup crews went before the State Commission. After brief comments by senior leadership of both the Russian and American space programs, each crew member had an opportunity to say a few words. I tried to express my sincere feeling that it was a great honor to be a part of the backup crew for Expedition 25. Both the prime and backup crews are very experienced and capable and I learned a lot from them.
After the State Commission we had a press conference with media from all over the world. We also got to meet (through the quarantine glass) the two Russian students who designed the mission patch for this launch. They were both beaming. After the press conference, we participated in one of the many Russian pre-launch traditions, watching the traditional pre-launch movie. With the crew watching from behind the quarantine glass, we all watched the Russian movie “
White Sun of the Desert” (“Белое солнце пустыни”) This film, which was released in 1969 and set on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (Turkmenistan today), has been watched before every launch in recent history. This film has nothing to do with space travel but is an entertaining blend of action, comedy, music and drama. I’m not exactly sure why or when this tradition started but one of the stories I heard is that this film was watched by the first crew to fly after a Soyuz spacecraft disaster which took the lives of a Soyuz crew during re-entry. Since there were no problems on the subsequent flight, there was a desire not to change anything (even the choice of the pre-flight movie).

The crew started out Launch Day with breakfast at 8:00am and then had free/nap time until about 8:30pm. Prior to the pre-launch meal, Scott Kelly, Scott’s Flight Surgeon Steve Gilmore, and I took a stroll through the Cosmonaut Grove so that Scott could enjoy his last sunshine, fresh air and cool breeze for the next six months. Earlier in the week, Scott Kelly and Oleg Skripochka planted their trees in the Cosmonaut Grove following the tradition of every space traveler who has left Earth from Baikonur since Yuri Gagarin. Sometime during our stroll through the Cosmonaut Grove it dawned on me that it might be interesting for people to be able to follow all the pre-launch preparation by sending out pictures of the “play-by-play” via Twitter. So with Scott’s permission I started to document as much as I could. I didn’t want to pass up this rare opportunity to give everyone a behind the scenes look at our time immediately prior to launch from an astronaut perspective.

After dinner, we met with senior leadership of the Russian and American space programs and prior to leaving the quarantine facility, each crewmember signed the door to his quarantine room and then received the traditional pre-flight blessing from a Russian Orthodox Priest.

One Side of the Story: Scott Kelly Receiving His Blessing Note: Paparazzi in Background (Photo: NASA)

Other Side of the Story (Photo: Ron Garan

Before boarding the two cosmonaut busses (one for the prime crew and one for the backup crew – keeping with the you can’t put all your eggs in one basket mindset), we passed through lines of people who gathered to say their good-byes and wish the crew well.

Scott Kelly Waving to Friends and Family (Photo: NASA)

Scott Kelly’s Friends & Family (Photo: Scott Kelly via Ron Garan’s iPhone)

At 11:00pm, we began the 45-minute drive via police escorted convoy through the pitch-black desert to the launch complex. The atmosphere on the bus was serious and quiet. After arriving at the launch complex, the prime crew suited up in their Sokol spacesuits, conducted leak checks, and then had an opportunity to say a few words (through the glass) to space program management and to the crew’s launch guests.

Scott Kelly Speaks to the Commission (Photo: Ron Garan’s iPhone)

The Crew of Expedition-25 Reports to the State Commission (Photo: Ron Garan’s iPhone)

Shortly after 2:00am, the crews boarded their respective buses to the launch pad. In keeping with other pre-launch traditions, the busses stopped prior to the pad, then after a short delay, the backup crew was permitted to board the prime crew bus to say our goodbyes. The Soyuz rocket on the pad was an interesting sight. The normally grey colored rocket was now all white from ice that formed on the exterior of the rocket from its super-cooled load of fuel. Steam poured from the spacecraft as liquid oxygen boiled off and was vented. It was obvious that this rocket was ready to go somewhere very soon. After the prime crew was dropped off at the pad, the backup crew then switched buses, signifying that they were now prime for their assigned mission.

After riding the elevator to the pointy end of the rocket, the crew climbed through the access hatch and down into the Soyuz descent capsule to strap in and begin the 3 hours of preflight checks. We then rode out to the viewing area located about a mile from the launch pad to wait for launch.

Expedition 25 Soyuz Commander Alexander Kaleri of Russia, bottom, NASA Flight Engineer Scott Kelly of the U.S., center, and Russian Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka wave farewell from the bottom of the Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (Photo Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi)

The launch was spectacular. At 5:10:32am, the 32 rocket engines of the Soyuz first stage lit up the night sky as they roared to life. After what seemed like an eternity, the rocket lifted off the pad to the cheers of all the spectators who gathered in the cold desert morning to witness the send off. After approximately 8 ½ minutes, the crew was in orbit.

Launch of Expedition 25 (Photo: NASA)

The Soyuz Spacecraft Leaves a Trail of Fire After Launch (Photo: NASA)

It was an amazing experience to witness a Soyuz launch for the first time. In addition to the excitement and historical significance of watching a launch from the same pad as Yuri Gagarin, I couldn’t help but think that in just a few months I’ll be strapped to that rocket making the same trip. I truly realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to travel to space and will do my best to share that experience as best I can.

Building Better Computers With Tears of Wine

With the Maragoni Convection Experiment at the Japanese Space Agency in Tsukuba, Japan From L-R: Matsumoto-san, Ron Garan and Kinefuchi-san (Photo: Ron Garan’s Phone)

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I’m presently in Japan for a last training session with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) before my mission to the ISS in March.

Today Dan Burbank and I received training on the Marangoni Convection Experiment that will be conducted on the International Space Station. The experiment is named for Italian physicist Carlo Marangoni, who studied surface phenomena in liquids and published the results of his experimentation in 1865. His work included the study of the flow of liquid caused by differences in surface tension. Today we call this flow the Marangoni Convection effect.

Surface Tension
Did you ever wonder how some objects that are denser than water can rest on the surface of the water, or how some insects and reptiles can run on the surface of water? This is made possible through surface tension. Surface tension is a property of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force. Surface tension is possible because in a liquid, each molecule is pulled equally in every direction by neighboring molecules, resulting in a net force of zero. The molecules at the surface do not have other molecules on all sides of them, and therefore are pulled inwards. This creates internal pressure forcing liquid surfaces to contract. Surface tension is responsible for the shape of liquid droplets. Droplets of water tend to be pulled into a spherical shape by the cohesive forces of the surface layer. In the micro-g environment of the space station, drops of liquids form nearly perfect spheres.

Tears of wine show clearly in the shadow of this glass of wine (Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marangoni_effect)

Surface tension is also responsible for the phenomenon called tears of wine which appear as a ring of clear liquid, near the top of a glass of wine, from which droplets continuously form and drop back into the wine. It is most obvious in wine which has high alcohol content and is also referred to as wine legs, curtains, or church windows.

Tears of Wine
Tears of wine form because alcohol has a lower surface tension than water. In regions of the wine with a lower concentration of alcohol there is a stronger pull on the surrounding fluid than in the region with a higher alcohol concentration. The result: liquid tends to flow away from regions with higher alcohol concentration. This can also be demonstrated by spreading a thin film of water on a smooth surface and then allowing a drop of alcohol to fall on the film. The water will rush out of the region where the drop of alcohol fell.

In the 145 years since Carlo Marangoni first published his observations, we have yet to fully understand and model the phenomena we call Marangoni Convection.

In the micro-g environment of the space station, the Marangoni Convection effect can be isolated from other factors such as gravity induced sedimentation and buoyancy convection.

Even in the absence of significant gravity, the Marangoni effect still leads to a pull of a liquid from an area of high temperature (low surface tension) to an area of low temperature (high surface tension).

This unique orbital experiment will help unlock the underlying natural laws of the Marangoni Convection effect.

In The Japanese Space Center payload control room in Tsukuba, Japan. In the monitors behind us you can see the Marangoni Convection experiment behing conducted live on the space station From L-R: Dan Burbank, Kinefuchi-san, Ron Garan and Matsumoto-san (Photo: Ron Garan’s Phone)

Improving Life On Earth
A better understanding of the Marangoni Convection effect can have numerous applications 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 devices
  • Higher quality materials
  • More efficient welding techniques which provide stronger welds using less material
  • Advancements in micro and nano-technology

Happy New Year From the Home Stretch

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Happy New Year Everyone!  The start of the New Year brings me into the home stretch of my 2 ½ year road to the launch pad. January will be my last full month in Houston before leaving for 1 week in Germany, 5 weeks in Russia, 2 weeks in Kazakhstan, and finally 2 days locked in a Soyuz spacecraft prior to arriving at the International Space Station and beginning a 6-month mission.

Expedition 27 Crew
Expedition 27 Crew: Ron Garan, Paolo Nespoli, Sasha Samokutyaev, Cady Coleman, Andrey Borisenko, Dmitry Kondratyev Image courtesy of NASA

My Soyuz crewmates, Sasha Samokutyayev and Andrey Borisenko will arrive in Houston next week. This last month in Houston will consist of space station systems training, a few days spent underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab  practicing for space walks, refresher training on some of the experiments we will be conducting, and emergency procedure training (practicing our actions in the case of a fire, air leak etc.). Hopefully we will also have a few joint training sessions with the STS-134 and STS-135 crews with whom we should have the opportunity to spend some time onboard the Station.

In addition to all the training required to prepare for a flight, there’s a great deal of administrative things that must be done prior to leaving the planet for 6-months. Taxes, for instance…although I’m sure I qualify for being “out of the country”.

Sasha, Andrey and I are presently scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft at 7:42pm CT on March 29th (00:42 GMT on March 30th, 4:42am Moscow time on March 30th, and 6:42am Baikonur time on March 30th which is 52 minutes before sunrise in Baikonur). This is less than 2 weeks prior to the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight. We will launch from the same launch pad where Yuri Gagarin began his historic flight that marked the beginning of the space age. I am really looking forward to being a part of such an historic anniversary, and I can’t think of a better place to observe the occasion than the International Space Station, where I will be living and working with crewmates from 4 different nations.

Expedition 28 Crew
Expedition 28 Crew: Satoshi Furukawa, Mike Fossum, Ron Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, Sergey Volkov, Andrey Borisenko Image courtesy of NASA

When Sasha, Andrey and I arrive onboard the Space Station, we will be greeted by the other members of the Expedition 27 crew: ISS commanderDmitri Kondratyev, US astronaut Cady Coleman, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli. We will spend about 2 months sharing the incredible experience of living and working in space with those guys before they climb into the Soyuz spacecraft that they launched in and return to Earth. A few weeks later, a new Soyuz spacecraft will arrive with Russian Cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, US astronaut Mike Fossum, and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. We will then spend 4 months with them, before returning to Earth in our Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft in late September.

I will do my best in this time leading up to heading to Baikonur, the pre-launch time in Baikonur and during the orbital mission to share the experience as much as I can through this blog, Twitter and by sending down as many pictures and videos as I can. Additionally, we have many interactive events planned that will hopefully allow people to not only follow the mission but be a part of it.

Please stay tuned to Fragile Oasis as we put in place all the tools we need to share the mission with everyone.

Honoring 50 Years of Human Space Flight: Introducing The Expedition 28 Mission Patch

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It is great honor to introduce the newly approved Expedition 28 mission patch.  Our patch has a very special significance to us because through the design we are able to celebrate 50 years of human spaceflight.

Expedition 28 Mission Patch

In the foreground of the patch, the International Space Station is prominently displayed to acknowledge the efforts of the entire International Space Station (ISS) team – both the crews who have assembled and operated it, and the team of scientists, engineers, and support personnel on Earth who have provided a foundation for each successful mission.  Their efforts and accomplishments have demonstrated the Space Station’s capabilities as a technology test bed and a science laboratory, as well as a path to the human exploration of our solar system and beyond.  This Expedition 28 patch represents the teamwork among the international partners – USA, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the ESA – and the ongoing commitment from each partner to build, improve, and utilize the ISS. 

Prominently displayed in the background is our home planet, Earth – the focus of much of our exploration and research on our outpost in space.  Also prominently displayed in the background is the Moon. The Moon is included in the design to stress the importance of our planet’s closest neighbor to the future of our world. Expedition 28 is scheduled to occur during the timeframe of the 50th anniversary of both the first human in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the first American in space, astronaut, Alan Shepard.  To acknowledge the significant milestone of 50 years of human spaceflight, the names “Гагарин” and “Shepard” as well as “50 Years” are included in the patch design.

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Pre-Flight Preparation & Tradition: On the Road to Baikonur

This entry was originally posted on September 24, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.com

The Backup Crew for Expedition 25 Reports to the Commission prior to beginning flight readiness exams (photo: RSA)

Last week was an interesting week to say the least. The week started off with final flight readiness exams for the primary and backup crews of Expedition 25. On the first day, the primary crew of Scott Kelly, Alexander Kaleri, and Oleg Skripochka had a full day-long exam in a training facility that mimics the Russian section of the Space Station while the backup crew of Sergei Volkov, Oleg Kononenko and myself had a day–long exam in the Soyuz simulator. The next day, both crews switched places and took the other exam.  Each exam involved

Soyuz Backup Commander Sergey Volkov signs the envelop selected to determine the malfunctions (photo: RSA)
routine operations that we will have to perform while on-board the Soyuz and Space Station as well as malfunctions and emergencies that we could possibly face.

The examinations themselves are steeped in tradition. After dressing in our Sokol spacesuits, we marched out in front of an army of press and media and reported to the commission.  The commander of the mission then picked one of five envelopes. Each envelope contained a series of malfunctions that if picked, we would experience during the simulation. After the envelope is picked, each of the crewmembers then signs the outside of the envelope. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to open the envelope and

Expedition 25 Backup Crew answering media questions prior to starting the final flight readiness simulations (photo: RSA)

look inside. We would find out what was in there soon enough.  After each exam, we faced a panel of specialists, managers, and senior cosmonauts to explain our actions and answer their questions. Both crews, on both exams, scored the highest grade and were recommended: “Ready for Flight”.

After the exams were all over we had a wonderful party at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center with the crews, cosmonauts and our instructors. There was a great feeling of accomplishment. It was great to be able to share this celebration with those wonderful training professionals who make many sacrifices and work very hard to ensure that crews are ready for flight. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, the pride that people who work in the space program have in their chosen profession shines through in all that they do. It is really humbling to be a part of this special endeavour of humanity.

Being Congratulated by Sergey Krikalev after the State Commission. (Photo: RSA)

Later in the week, we went before the “State Commission”.  The State Commission was headed  by Sergey Krikalev.  Sergey,  besides being  the Chief of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center has spent more time in space than anyone in history (803 days 9 hours and 39 minutes). At the commission, all our training for the mission was

Oleg Kononenko receives an award from Sergey Krikalev during a post State Commission Press conference. (Photo: RSA)

reviewed, each of us said a few words, and then we were certified “Ready for Flight”. Following the State Commission we conducted a press conference with Russian and European media (which was also covered by NASA TV).

The period before leaving for the Baikonur Cosmodrome is filled with a great deal of wonderful traditions.  On Friday, after the press conference we visited the Cosmonaut Museum here in Star City. Before touring through the great historical displays, each crew sat at Yuri Gagarin’s desk and signed the cosmonaut book. It was fun looking through the book and seeing the names and

The Backup crew of Expedition 25 signs the Cosmonaut Book while sitting at Yuri Gagarin’s desk at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City Russia (Photo: RSA)

well wishes of the crews that went before us. It was also a great experience to see Sergei find one of his Dad’s entries. (Sergei is one of two current 2nd generation cosmonauts). From Star City we headed down to Red Square where we each took turns laying flowers at the tombs of Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Korolev. What a great honor to be able to show our respect to the first human in space and to the Father of the Russian Space Program. In addition to paying respect to those great champions of human spaceflight that have gone before us, we also had some time for “photo-op’s” in front of the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon inside the Kremlin and of course in front of  St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Inside the Cosmonaut Museum, Star City Russia (Photo: RSA)

After spending some time touring around Red Square we headed back to Star City where we shared a great dinner with our NASA colleagues in Star City and the newest class of European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts. The newest class of ESA astronauts are a great group of very talented and personable people. They are: Samantha Cristoforetti from Italy, Alexander Gerst from Germany, Andreas Mogensen from Denmark, Timothy Peake from England, and Thomas Pesquet from France.  Their sixth classmate, Luca Parmitano from Italy was not present because he is presently training in Houston.

Tomorrow the plan was for the prime and backup crews to attend the traditional pre-departure breakfast then board aircraft for the flight to Baikonur. Unfortunately, a malfunction on-board the Space Station is delaying the depature and landing of  the Soyuz 22S TMA-18 spacecraft in which Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko were scheduled to land this morning in Kazakhstan. Because that landing is delayed, our departure from Star City is most likely delayed too.

In front of the Tsar Bell at the Kremlin in Moscow, Expedition 25 prime and backup crew members were joined by NASA officials and friends as they posed for pictures as part of ceremonial activities leading to the launch of the Expedition 25 crew in the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Oct. 8th (Photo: RSA)

Whenever we end up arriving in Baikonur, I’m really looking forward to seeing that place where so much space history was made and that continues to play a very important role in humanity’s exploration of space.

Russian pre-flight tradition: laying flowers at Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Korolev’s tombs (Photo: RSA)



Reporting from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the 53rd Anniversary of Sputnik, the 1st Object Launched into Space

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Expedition 25 Crew Conducts a Press Conference prior to boarding Aircraft Bound for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
53 years ago today humanity was forever changed when our first few steps to extend human presence beyond our world were made. It is an incredible experience to be in that place were the first object Sputnik, and the first human Yuri Gagarin were launched into space.  The Expedition 25 prime and backup crews have been in Kazakhstan for a little over a week in preparation for the October 8th Soyuz launch (Oct 7th in the US) from the Baikonur
Arrival in Baikonur Kazakhstan (Photo: Victor Zelentsov)
Our journey to Baikonur began on the 25th of September. That day started out with a going away ceremony at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.  After a series of toasts and wishes for a safe trip, the Expedition 25 Prime Crew had a brief press conference before we all boarded busses for our aircraft. In the “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket” mindset, the prime crew boarded one aircraft and the backup crew boarded another for the 3½ hour flight to the Baikonur Cosmodrome. 
Some of Our Welcoming Committee After Arrival in Baikonur
Flag Raising Ceremony, Baikonur Kazakhstan (Photo: Victor Zelentsov)
Baikonur is the once top secret launch facility where besides Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, many others have begun the trip to the cosmos since 1957.

Upon arrival in Baikonur each crew reported to Russian Space Agency Dignitaries and then traveled to the quarantine facility via a police escorted convoy (Continuing the “Not all the eggs in one basket” mindset by using different busses for the prime and backup crews). In addition to people greeting us along the way we were also welcomed by some of the local wildlife.

Except for 2 trips to the Soyuz assembly facility and an excursion to space monuments and a space museum all of our pre-launch time has been spent in the cosmonaut quarantine facility. In the facility we attend pre-mission briefings, review classes, exercise, watch movies and participate in traditions and ceremonies.

The Backup Expedition 25 Crew poses in front of the Soyuz Spacecraft Hatch at one of the visits to the Soyuz Assembly Building (Photo: Victor Zelentsov)
Participating in the traditions has been a great experience. Shortly after arriving in Baikonur, we had a Flag Raising Ceremony where the crews raised the flags of their native countries and the flag of Kazakhstan which signaled the start of the pre-launch countdown. The backup crew also had a tour of the city which included laying flowers on memorials to Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolev and visiting the spot where it was announced that Yuri Gagarin would be the first in space (and Gherman Titov would be his backup).
The Door that the Cosmonauts Exit on Their Way to the Launch Pad. Before Boarding the 2 Busses (1 for the Prime and 1 for the Backup Crews), the Cosmonauts & Astronauts Report to the Commission (See the Designated Spots Painted on the Asphalt)

On one of our two visits to the Soyuz assembly facility, to verify the cargo and equipment locations of the Soyuz spacecraft, we also were able to tour two small houses, not far from the launch pad, where Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolev stayed prior to the historic flight in 1961 and we were also able to see the Buran Spacecraft.

The Business End of the Soyuz Rocket (Photo: Victor Zelentsov)
What Quarantine Looks Like (Photo: Victor Zelentsov)
In a few days Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka, and Scott Kelly will launch from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from in 1961.  Six months from now, Alexander Samokutyayev, Andrei Borisenko and I will also launch from that same pad very close to the 50th Anniversary of the 1st Human Spaceflight. That will be a great honor to say the least.  It is a wonderful experience to be in a place that has so much history and it is humbling to realize that so many sacrificed so much to push humans beyond our Earth. I understand that I am very fortunate to be able to participate in this endeavor where today we continue the tradition of pushing the boundaries of exploration.

The 3rd Rock from the Sun is a Fragile Oasis

This entry was originally posted on August 19, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org

I want to devote this post to explaining the part of Fragile Oasis called “3rd Rock.”

The focus of the “3rd Rock” will not be on the problems of the world, but on how the problems of the world are being solved by amazing people. The 3rd Rock page will be dedicated to improving life on our planet, and highlighting those people and organizations making a difference.

It is very difficult to look at our beautiful Earth from space without being moved in some way. My own experience is described on the “3rd Rock” page:

Light from One of 16 Daily Sunrises strikes Solar Arrays as seen from the windows of the Japanese “Kibo” (Hope) Laboratory shortly after it was installed to the International Space Station on STS-124

“It was a very moving experience to see the absolute beauty of the planet we have been given. But as I looked down at this indescribably beautiful, fragile oasis — this island that has been given to us, and has protected all life from the harshness of space — I couldn’t help but think of the inequity that exists. I couldn’t help but think of the people who don’t have clean water to drink, enough food to eat, social injustice, conflicts, and poverty. It was an amazingly stark contrast between the beauty of our planet and the unfortunate realities of life for many of its inhabitants.”

You may wonder why a “Space” website would devote a section to highlighting solutions to some of the problems facing the world. For me personally, it’s because those who fly in space have been given the unique perspective of living and working off the planet while still being close enough to our planet to see its beauty, vulnerability and to appreciate what an incredible gift it is. Just as this unique perspective continues to inspire those who experience it, the goal of the “3rd Rock” page is to share that unique orbital perspective, and hopefully to share the inspiration to protect our Fragile Oasis and its inhabitants.

Fortunately, we live in a world where many problems faced by previous generations have been solved. Yet, vast numbers of people still do not benefit from those solutions.

Children are the most vulnerable people on our planet. Adults have a responsibility to them not only because they rely on us, but because they are our future. Let’s take a moment to look at some sobering facts about the children of our world:

  • Despite the fact that diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are preventable and curable, The World Health Organization estimates that in 2006 there were over 1 million deaths as a result of malaria. In 2005, 1.6 million people died from tuberculosis worldwide. In both cases, most of these were children.
  • Despite our capacity to provide clean water to every person on this planet, 29,000 children die every day from problems associated with drinking contaminated water
  • Despite resources to feed every person on this planet, 16,000 children die daily from hunger-related causes
  • 22 million infants are not protected from disease by routine immunizations
  • 2 million children under the age of 15 are living with HIV

These are not just numbers on a chart. These are children. These facts represent just a fraction of the immense problems facing our planet. When faced with such insurmountable challenges, one can become overwhelmed and frustrated and be left feeling that the problems are too big for them to really make an impact. They ask themselves, What could I possibly do? Is it worth my effort to even try?

Even those people who have made a commitment to improve the world eventually face periods of frustration. However, it is precisely those people who commit to making a positive change, and it is precisely at those moments when they feel discouraged, or when they don’t think they’ll be successful — people who persevere through those obstacles and step outside of their comfort zone are the ones who achieve success in reaching their goals and dreams, and who affect real change in the world. I for one, do not want to look back in the twilight of my life and ask “What would have happened if I really gave it a try, if I really put everything I had into trying to make life better on our planet?”

The first step to affect change is to believe that real change is possible. Here are some things that I believe are true:

  • That it is possible to live in a world without poverty
  • That it is possible to live in a world where no one dies from preventable and curable diseases
  • That it is possible to live in a world where everyone has access to clean water and no one goes to sleep hungry
  • That it is possible to live in a world that educates all its children
  • That we do live in a world where the possibilities are endless, and where we are limited only by our imagination and our will

Peaceful Sleep in Rwanda

We are challenged to make the part of the world we come in contact with a little better; simply because it came in contact with us.  The goal of “3rd Rock” is to encourage people to look for opportunities to better their communities and the world, and to inspire people to go out and make a difference.

Above all, the vision of “3rd Rock” is to encourage everyone, in all that they do, to look for opportunities to make life better for those with whom they share this Fragile Oasis.

Please stay tuned as this part of the website takes shape. As always we are open to your suggestions.

Training & Tribute: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City, Russia

This entry was originally posted on September 12, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org

Expedition 25 Backup Crew (from L-R: Ron Garan Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko) (Photo courtesy of the Russian Space Agency)

Well, the second week of training in Star City has ended and it has been a busy week. The prime and backup crews of Expedition 25 have completed all the required pre-launch training in both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Russian Segment of the International Space Station.  Last week we had meetings at Mission Control, just outside of Moscow, with Soyuz and Space Station specialists. We were briefed on the status of the Space Station, the scheduled flight plan, and some of the experiments that will be conducted on board.

Training with the Russian tool kit (Photo courtesy of S.P.Korolev RSC Energia)



Scott Kelly and I also traveled to the Rocket & Space Corporation (RSC) Energia in the Korolev area of Moscow.  There we received training on the actual equipment that comprises the Russian docking systems and hatches. I was also trained on the video and photo equipment located in the Russian segment of the Space Station as well as the Russian tool kit. More pictures from our trip to Energia can be found at this link.

Next week we will face the “Commission” in our final exams to determine our readiness for flight.  We will have a day-long exam in the Soyuz simulator followed the next day by a day-long exam in the Space Station simulator.  Later in the week, we will travel down to Moscow to go before the Commission, conduct media interviews and visit Red Square to lay flowers on the tomb of Yuri Gagarin. It should be an interesting week to say the least.

On the tilt table with the “Braslet” devices

Besides all the preparation and training last week I also was fitted for a devise called “Braslet”.  Braslet was designed by the Russians to counteract the effects of fluid shift on orbit. As soon as the rocket engines shutdown and we arrive in a weightless environment, all the fluid in our bodies that is normally “weighed down” on Earth begins to migrate from our lower extremities to our upper body and head. Braslet is an ingeniously simply device designed to compress the upper thigh to slow the venous return of blood from the legs to the heart.  Basically, I was wired up with all kinds of sensors and placed on a tilt table. Braslet devises which are really nothing more than tourniquets, were placed on my upper thigh and tightened.  I was tilted head down for awhile and felt a marked decrease in pressure in my head when compared to the heads down position without the Braslets. After remaining in this position for awhile, the Braslets were abruptly released which allowed the blood to rush to my head which felt very much like the sensation right as the rocket engines shutdown.

After the “Braslet” evaluation (photo taken by the late Dr. Greg Shashkan)

There is a collaborative research project with the Russian Space Agency and NASA to quantify the effects of the devise using on board ultrasound imaging.  Besides the obvious benefit to future space flight, the study of the physiological responses to altered fluid distribution may lead to increased insight into the diagnosis and treatment of terrestrial conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Gregory Giancarlo Shaskan ~ January 14, 1966 – September 02, 2010

I want to end this post with a tribute.  We ended our week with a memorial for our NASA Star City Flight Surgeon, Greg Shaskan, who died suddenly and unexpectedly the week before last.  The memorial was attended by the American and Russian members of the NASA Star City Office and all the astronauts currently training in Star City.  Gathering with our colleagues to celebrate the life of a great and caring man was very moving. Greg was not only a selfless member of our nation’s space program, who endured long family separations from his wife an infant daughter to care for astronauts training for spaceflight, he also was making a big positive impact on our world. He was a member of Doctors Without Borders and traveled to places like Sri Lanka after the tsunami to provide medical care to those affected.   Greg was not satisfied with the status quo on our planet. He was determined to make life better for those with whom he shared this fragile oasis. My thoughts and prayers are with Greg and his family during this difficult time.

Did You Know You Could Burn Water?

This entry was originally posted on August 11, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org
Expedition 27/28 Astronaut Ron Garan (left), and crew instructor Wayne Wright, pose for a photo during a payload training session on Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization (DECLIC) in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

One of the main objectives of this blog is to highlight the scientific research being conducted on board the International Space Station (ISS). Specifically, I like to highlight how the research can improve life on Earth. This past week, I had quite a bit of training on some of the experiments I will be participating in while I’m on board the ISS. This is the 3rd in a series of blog posts to explain the ISS experiments.

Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization(DECLIC): In a strange flashback to high school chemistry I vaguely remember that there’s a specific temperature, pressure and density where a liquid and its vapor become identical. When these conditions all exist, the substance is at a state known as the critical point. A supercritical fluid is any substance at a temperature and pressure above its critical point. The International Space Station, DECLIC experiment hopes to lead to a vast improvement in the understanding of how fluids behave near the critical point and further understand fluid compressibility. Water close to its critical point (around 374°C), exhibits a unique behavior that is scientifically very interesting to investigate in absence of gravity. This study will look at the transfer of heat and mass in near-critical water and measure its physical properties. A very informative (but a little goofy) video explaining how the critical point relates to DECLIC (in very easy to understand terms) is at: http://ow.ly/2o6Of

In the new environmental technology of supercritical water oxidation (the burning of water) the temperature and pressure are typically above the critical point and it is important to be able to predict the behavior of various dissolved materials. This research could enable the development of supercritical water reactors to treat waste (household waste; nuclear waste; and oil fuels) in an environmentally safe manner.

This research could lead to advancements in the field of clean technologies for producing energy and treating waste.

For more information about the DECLIC experiment please see the CNES website at: http://smsc.cnes.fr/DECLIC/index.htm

Forecasting Volcanoes & Earthquakes and Making Better Mayonnaise

This entry was originally posted on August 22, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org

This is the 4th in a series of posts to highlight the scientific research being conducted on board the International Space Station.

With Columbus Training Team in front of the Columbus Training Facility at the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany

I spent the last week at the European Astronaut Center just outside the beautiful city of Cologne Germany. I have one more week here before I head to Star City Russia for more training with the Russian Space Agency. This past week, I received training on the International Space Station’s European Laboratory known as, “Columbus”. In addition to learning about the systems and equipment of the Columbus Laboratory, I also received training on two of the laboratory’s research facilities: The Fluid Science Laboratory and BioLab.

Fluid Science Laboratory – As its name suggests, this facility studies the properties of fluids. One of the experiments called GeoFlow, will take advantage of the weightless environment to improve our understanding of how fluids behave. Why do we need to do this research in space, you ask?  The weightless environment of the Space Station allows us to vastly simplify or eliminate the following processes that are involved in the study of fluids:

With European Space Agency Instructor Riccardo Bosca in the Fluid Science Laboratory Training Facility at the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany
  • Convection is the process where heated fluids, due to their lower density, rise and cooled fluids fall. This process doesn’t take place in the absence of gravity.
  • Hydrostatic Pressure is the pressure exerted by a fluid due to its weight. An environment where objects are weightless= no hydrostatic pressure.
  • Sedimentation is the tendency for particles in suspension to settle out of  a fluid.  In a weightless environment this process is vastly simplified and particles are much more likely to remain suspended in the fluid.
  • Stratification, or the building up of layers is also greatly simplified in an environment where gravity does not cause changes in density.

All this simplification, afforded by a weightless environment, will allow us to build better mathematical models and improve our understanding of the geophysics of the inner core of the Earth. This could lead to better methods of forecasting volcanoes and earthquakes.

Another experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory is called FASES.  This experiment will study the characteristics of emulations. An emulsion is a mixture of two or more unblendable liquids. Emulsions in foods like mayonnaise are mixtures of oil and water. These normally do not mix and will separate if left without an emulsifier. This research can lead to improvements in food production and storage, advanced cooling fluids and a better understanding of how fluids flow.

With European Space Agency Instructors Frank Salmen (left) and Uwe Muellerschkowski (right) in the BioLab Training Facility at the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany

BioLab –  is a biological research facility designed to perform experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates. The major objective of these experiments is to identify the role that weightlessness plays at all levels of an organism, from single cells to complex organisms including humans.  Some of the experiments we will be doing onboard will expand our understanding of how plants grow in harsh climates and poor soil conditions. This research can lead to more effective food production in areas of the world where it’s presently very challenging to farm. Other experiments in this facility should lead to a better understanding of the human immune system with the hope that this research will lead to better methods of boosting the immune systems. Another interesting experiment will research how our biological clocks are effected by gravity, digestion and light.

Next week I will continue training on many more interesting experiments.  It really is rewarding to be a part of an international science team whose research will make life better on Planet Earth.