Our New Home

Originally posted on fragileoasis.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our New Home

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

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

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

Paolo and I working around the space station

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

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

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

Saturday Morning in Space

Originally posted at fragileoasis.org

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

Crew Quarters

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