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

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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)

For more information, please visit www.FragileOasis.org

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.

For more information, please visit www.FragileOasis.org

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

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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)
Cosmodrome
.
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.
 
 
 
 

Why This Blog

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This entry was originally posted on June 13, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org

I appreciate that I have been given a special privilege. I realize how fortunate I am to be included in that very small group of people who have the opportunity to fly in space. Because of this, I also realize that I have a responsibility to share that experience, as best I can, with everyone who has not been given this opportunity. I began this blog simply to help others share in the wonderful experience of living and working in space.

In September of 2008, 3 months after returning from the STS-124 mission, I was assigned to International Space Station Expedition 27/28. Since that time I have been in full-time training in the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and Germany. Presently I am in week 3 of a 5-week training trip to Star City Russia. This trip has been special because for first time my family was able to come over and join me for a week. I took some leave and showed them around Moscow, St. Petersburg and Star City. It was really great to see them, spend time with them and help them get a better understanding of what’s involved with training over here. It was a really important trip because now everything will not be so new and different when they travel over for launch next March.

All of the assigned crews live in “cottages” that were built about 20 years ago to support NASA’s partnership with the Russian Space Agency. It’s a great experience to share meals and life with fellow crew members, instructors and members of the support teams.

There really is a great feeling of camaraderie. The training here does not come without sacrifice. Of course family separation is the biggest, but the training is packed into the available time which makes for some long days and late study nights. All the training is conducted in Russian but interpreters are provided for those who still need it (like me).

As I write this it’s Sunday night, but tomorrow is a day off due to “Russia Day.” I’ll close here for the night since we’re all going to get together tonight and watch a movie.

Ron Garan
13 June 2010

June 2010 Star City Training Trip Winding Down

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

Well my training trip to Star City is coming to an end and the last week has been very eventful. Starting with last Friday night, I attended a docking party hosted by Expedition 24 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin’s, wife Larisa. It was fun celebrating a successful launch and docking with all the cosmonauts, astronauts, families, managers, and trainers here at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) (I even slugged through a toast in Russian).

On Saturday, I received a special invitation by my fellow Expedition 27/28 crewmate (and Soyuz 26 Commander), Alexander (Sasha) Samokutayev to attend a party held in honor of fellow cosmonaut Roman Romanenko who recently received the Hero of the Russian Federation Award (Герой Российской Федерации) which is the highest honorary title that can be bestowed on a citizen by the Russian Federation. The party was also a reunion for Roman’s and Sasha’s military pilot training class. It was a very special time to be able to spend a beautiful afternoon with guys who share that special bond found among all pilots (and especially among military pilots). It was really surreal to be hanging out and enjoying a beautiful day with guys that for most of my professional military career I had prepared to fight. At one point in the evening, I made a toast and as best as I could, talked about how wonderful it is that former enemies are now working so closely together to overcome the common enemy of the unknowns of space for the benefit of all of humanity. During the evening, I also had the opportunity to meet Sasha’s wife, Oksana. I immediately knew after meeting her that she and my wife Carmel are going to get along wonderfully when they spend time together during our launch and landing (and hopefully before the mission during our training).

After arriving at the escape vehicle (Soyuz simulator facility) we get into spacesuits while wearing our gas masks

Sunday was spent preparing for the week’s many training events which included two Soyuz simulator training periods with my Expedition 25 crewmates, Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko. In one of the sims (on Monday) we started in the ISS simulator facility where we had to deal with the emergency situation of a fire onboard the space station. After donning real gas masks and an unsuccessfull attempt to put out the fire (complete with smoke in the mockup) we “abandoned” the space station by walking to another building here at GCTC (while still wearing our gas masks), got dressed in our Soyuz Sokol Space Suits, and climbed into the Soyuz simulator for an emergency descent and return to Earth. After training on Monday, I rushed back to the cottages (where we live while here in Star City), because we had a video conference scheduled with the ISS crew. It was fun to see and talk to Shannon Walker & Doug Wheelock (who just launched from Kazakhstan a few days earlier) and Tracy Caldwell-Dyson who has already been onboard a few months. It was great to hear their stories of the launch and rendezvous with the ISS, how life has been onboard, and to share a few laughs. What also made it very interesting is that in addition to fellow astronauts Don Pettit and Chris Hadfield, we were also joined by TJ Creamer and Soichi Noguchi who just landed a week before after spending 6 months onboard the ISS. They had to answer allot of questions about the location of various things onboard from the new “tenants”.

On Tuesday, Sergei, Oleg and I traveled to an Air Force base not far from Star City for ISS depressurization training. We practiced dealing with leaks in the space station in a full size mockup of the ISS’s Russian Service Module & Soyuz Spacecraft which is inside a giant vacuum chamber. Basically, once we’re sealed inside the mockup the pressure is dropped inside the vacuum chamber and leaks are introduced to various portions of the space station mockup that we were located in. It was very effective and realistic training to actually feel the leak (popping of your ears) and go through all the steps of isolating the leak by closing various hatches until you are on the side of the hatch that’s not leaking. Of course, the first step is to ensure that your escape vehicle (the Soyuz) is not the source of the leak.

In the spacesuit I’ll fly in @ the vacuum chamber at the Звезда facility outside Moscow

You can see me on the vacuum chamber TV.Everyone is keeping a close eye on my spacesuit pressure
On Wednesday, I headed to the Звезда facility in Moscow. It’s always great to head down there and meet the people who have been designing and building spacesuits since the first human spaceflight. On this trip, I climbed into the actual spacesuit that I’ll be wearing this coming March when I fly onboard the Soyuz to the ISS. After I was in the suit, I was led to a small vacuum chamber. In the middle of the chamber was the actual seat that I’ll fly in. I got strapped into the seat, the door was closed and then all the air was sucked out leaving me and my spacesuit in a vacuum. During the mission the spacesuit is only needed if there is a depressurization of the spacecraft but if that were to happen, I may have to remain in the space suit for about 2 hours before we can return to Earth. Because of this possibility, I remained in the chamber at vacuum for 2 hours so that I could evaluate the fit of the suit and technicians could evaluate the suit’s performance. @SnippetPhysTher asked me on Twitter what I thought about for those 2 hours. I don’t really remember what I thought about but I do remember what I tried to not think about. I tried not to think about the fact that the only thing separating me from instant death was a paper thin layer of material. If my visor cracked, a glove seal popped, or anywhere else on the suit failed it would not have been a good day. In reality, I never doubted the performance of my suit and it did great.

The highlight of Thursday was definitely attending the Expedition 23 crew return ceremony for Oleg Kotov, TJ Creamer and Soichi Noguchi. Representatives from the Russian, American and Japanese space agencies, as well as the crew had some very inspiring things to say to the Star City community. At the beginning and end of the ceremony the national anthems of all 3 countries were played which I think is a fitting tribute to the international cooperation that has become an integral part of space exploration. As I write this I am waiting to find out how a mix-up in my travel plans has been resolved. Apparently my return flight which was supposed to be booked for Saturday was booked for tomorrow (Friday). Since I have a full day of training tomorrow and there are no flights available this weekend, we’re in a little bit of a bind. I will either fly home tomorrow as booked or delay probably until Monday. Oh the joys of constantly being on the road!

Japan in July

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This entry was originally posted on July 11, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org

Another successful training trip is over. Just returned from a quick week trip to Japan. Scott Kelly and I spent a week with the Japanese Space Agency in Tsukuba Japan (about 2 hours NE of Tokyo ) During the week we trained on the systems of the Japanese “Kibo” Laboratory (Kibo means Hope in Japanese),  the systems, rendezvous and robotic docking procedures of the Japanese cargo ship called the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)  and spent the majority of the time learning about the various scientific experiments we will be conducting onboard on behalf of the Japanese Space Agency.

Sustainability

Several  of the experiments involve Protein Crystallization Research. Protein crystals are grown in order to establish models that can be used to develop things like new medicines. On Earth these crystals are limited in their size and shape by the presence of gravity. These same experiments in space, in an environment of weightlessness, produce crystals that are much more useful for researchers. It is the hope that a direct result of this research will be the development of more effective medicines to combat illness on Earth.

Another experiment called Hydro-Tropi seeks to determine the effective of gravity and moisture on the growth  behavior of plant roots. Hopefully, this research will lead to designing crops that require less water. This is an area that is I am very interested in due to the severe lack of clean water in many parts of the world.

Spiral Top Light Traces

I consider Spiral Top an experiment where science and art meet.  “The spiral phenomena that exists in space (e.g. galaxies), on Earth (e.g. typhoons, growth of plants, etc.),  and in the human body (e.g. DNA) have a mysteriousness that charms many people. We assume that a new world of beauty will be created by modeling 3-dimensional luminous spiral movements that humans have never seen before…JAXA”http://iss.jaxa.jp/utiliz/pdf/epo_pamphlet_e.pdf

All in all it was a very productive trip. I’m back in Houston for a few weeks of training at JSC before heading out to Germany, Russia, then on to Kazakhstan for Scott Kelly’s launch for  Expedition 25 (I’m his backup).

That's One Small Step for Fragile Oasis…

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This entry was originally posted on July 20, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org
July 20th, 1969 (One Small Step for Man…)

On July 20th 1969, at the age of 7, I attended my great-grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration in a banquet hall in Yonkers, NY. My great-grandparents emigrated from Russia to America many years earlier. Late in the evening (late for a 7-year old boy), all the guests gathered around a black and white TV and watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the 1st footprints on the Moon.

Watching that historic moment is one of my most vivid childhood memories. That night, that 7-year-old boy knew with certainty that he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. On July 20th, 2000, 31 years to the day after the historic Moon landing, that boy and 16 other members of the Astronaut Class of 2000 received phone calls from the Chief of the Astronaut Office, Charlie Precourt, informing them of their selection as NASA astronauts.

Since July 20th is such a significant day, I think it’s very fitting that the Fragile Oasis Team has chosen July 20th 2010 to launch the first step in what I believe will be a very informative, useful, and important interactive website. The Fragile Oasis website has these goals:

  • Get the word out that the International Space Station is an incredible global asset
  • Highlight the scientific advancements being accomplished on the International Space Station
  • Inspire students to academic excellence
  • Allow people to “experience” living and working in space vicariously through crew members currently living on the International Space Station
  • Use the unique orbital perspective to inspire people to improve life on our planet

This blog is just the first step. Presently I am using it to document and share my “Road to the Launch Pad,” and after launching to the International Space Station, I will use it to document and share the experience of living and working in Space. What will set Fragile Oasis apart from other “Space” websites is its focus on life on Earth, including interactive 3D mapping that highlights “Crew Members*”, “Crew Member Teams” and Student Teams who are working to make life better on our planet through humanitarian projects or scientific research.   * A Crew Member is our name for members of the Fragile Oasis community

I look forward to watching the Fragile Oasis vision take shape over the next few months and I am also looking forward to using the website to interact with everyone during my mission on board the International Space Station. Please stay tuned….

Please join with people all over the planet who look for opportunities to better their community and world, and as a result, make life better for those with whom they share this fragile oasis.

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