Diary of a Space Zucchini

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January 5, 2012

I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me.  I am not one of the beautiful; I am not one that by any other name instills flutters in the human heart.  I am the kind that makes little boys gag at the dinner table thus being sent to bed without their dessert.  I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions.  I am zucchini – and I am in space.

 

January 7

I became aware of my fellow crewmates for the first time.  It takes a sprout a few days before grasping your surroundings.  One is my gardener who waters my roots every day.  I overheard that we are in a spacecraft orbiting Earth and are part of a long space mission.  As crew, I am not sure of my role but am ready to contribute what I can.

 

January 9

I discovered that my roots are bound in a ziplock bag.  This bag has a canoe shaped piece of closed cellular foam wedged in the opening that retains the needed moisture.  My stem is held in place by a piece of scrap spongy material called pigmat.  Used for absorbent packing for spacecraft supplies, pigmat will soak up spillage from liquid containers.  It makes a nice transition between the stuffy closed cell foam and my green parts and will keep nasty mold away from my stem.

 

 

This is most definitely not hydroponics; my roots are not submerged in a bag of water.  This bag is mostly filled with air and only has a small amount of water neatly tucked in the corners from the action of capillary forces in weightlessness.  This is aeroponics, a rather new method for raising plants without soil and without large volumes of water.  Only a small amount is needed, just enough to keep my roots at 100 percent humidity and make up for what I drink.  My roots are not hermetically sealed in this bag, they have access to gas exchange with the cabin air.  My roots are thus exposed in this transparent bag, naked to the universe.  Embarrassed, it took me a few days to get over the idea that anyone can see my roots without any dirt covering them.

 

January 10

I reach for the light.  It burns brightly and makes my cotyledons a happy vibrant green.  There is a small plastic bag loosely set over my top that keeps the humidity high for my tender new leaves.  My roots are another matter.  They sense sourness, the kind that makes one want to tip-toe across the floor for fear of getting something on your feet.  But for now it does not matter.  I am living off the nutrients in my seed pod.

 

January 12

My cotyledons, like a drogue chute in a parachute deployment sequence, provide the photosynthetic nourishment until my real leaves can form.  Now I stretch my first leaf and orient it towards the light.  My cotyledons, having served their purpose, will soon wilt.  The plastic bag cover was removed by my gardener.

 

January 14

My gardener fusses with me several times a day.  He checks that I have water, light, and with a hypodermic syringe, injects this tea concoction into the ziplock bag.  It bathes my roots with a not so tasty drink however it does seem to contain the nutrients I need.  I won’t complain; on expeditions into the frontier the food is often this way.

 

January 15

My gardener fusses with my leaves.  I am not sure if I like that.  I now have four and I do not quite understand why he behaves this way.  He sticks his nose up against them.  Does he take me for some sort of a handkerchief?  Apparently he takes pleasure in my earthy green smell.  There is nothing like the smell of living green in this forest of engineered machinery.  I see the resultant smile.  Maybe this is one of my roles as a crewmember on this expedition.

 

January 18

I am about 15 centimeters high now but still only have four leaves.  I am vibrant green and happy.  My roots still drink this sour tea but it seems to have everything I need.  I am reluctant to ask my crewmate where this comes from.

 

 

January 19

I found out what the tea is made from.   Apparently we have a space compost pile.  A plastic food bag is filled with a mixture of paper scraps, orange peels, garlic skins, apple cores, and other various food leftovers.  Nobody eats the packets of freeze dried green beans and these seem to compost well.  To this was added a teaspoon of dirt from Mother Earth.  When kept wet, it stays warm to the touch.  Liquid tea, extracted from this mess is what I have to drink.  It makes me gag not unlike what my kind does to little boys at the dinner table.  I suppose this is orbital Karma but hey, I am in space and part of this mission and am standing tall and green.

 

January 20

Light comes in different flavors.  Currently I have only one kind.  It is becoming boring to my leaves and my stems are reluctant to keep them properly oriented.  And it stays on continuously for 24 hours a day.  I heard my crewmates discussing this.  It is a special light fixture with a flavor balanced to help crews sleep shift.  It works for me as well but this constant intensity all with the same flavor is getting to me.

 

January 21

Oh glorious day!  I discovered a window with a view – and my leaves sing.  It is a small out of the way window tightly packed with stowage.  It looks directly at Earth which reflects bright diffuse sunlight off the wintertime clouds.  This reflection is so bright that my crewmates need to wear sunglasses else their eyes begin to tear.  I drink from this fountain of light and in turn my leaves release extra essence of green, which I can see brings my crewmates’ olfactory pleasures.

 

January 24

I am becoming quite popular.  I heard one say that he would vacuum the HEPA filters for my gardener if he could have five minutes with his nose close to me. 

 

January 25

I have a call sign.  I guess a call sign is a fighter pilot thing and was surprised that I could earn such a title.  At first someone suggested “Four-Leaf”.  I was a bit embarrassed when I heard this since I still only sport four leaves and feel a bit sensitive to this fact.  My gardener intervened and said that would not do.  He gave me my call sign – “Rose”.

 

January 30

I am becoming confused.  These 16 short periods of day and night every 24 hours are making me jet-lagged.  My photosynthesis activity just gets going and then abruptly shuts down.  Repeating this cycle is putting me into a dither.  My leaves do not sing as loud.

 

 

January 31

My gardener is now moving me around this spacecraft and I can get a better view of the place.  By crew work day, I am moved under the sleep shift light.  During crew sleep I am placed by the window.  This schedule works much better for me.  I get the pleasure of basking in real sunlight as well as the steady glow from the lamp. 

 

February 1

I am making flowers.  I do not know if this is from the light or the nutrients in my tea.  I currently have four little flower buds, all neatly tucked under my four leaves.  It seems that I should be making more leaves, not flowers.  Maybe it is because I am in space and this is what zucchinis are supposed to do.

 

February 3

I learned that my gardener has a gardener too.  Only his gardener does not water him but speaks to him from a panel on the wall.  His gardener must be very important.  They stop whatever they are doing whenever he calls.

 

February 8

My flower buds are developing.  I will soon be in full orange bloom.  My gardener is behaving like an expecting father.  There is excitement in the air.

 

February 13

One of my buds opened today and is in full bloom.  Surprisingly, it does not open all the way but looks more like an inverted orange umbrella that got stuck at the halfway point.  My spherical shaped stamens give off a tantalizing essence.  My gardener did not tell his crewmates about this and kept me all to himself.

 

February 14

My gardener made special arrangements for a two way video conference with a special Earth-flower.  When all the arrangements had been made, he took me from my window and placed me center stage in front of the video camera.  She was a very attractive flower all neatly dressed.  He said to her, “I can not offer you much; I can only give you a space zucchini.”  The image of my orange blossom was beamed across the void between spacecraft and Earth.  Her heart melted.  I felt as much a rose as any rose could ever be.  He picked my flower and opened a large book, an atlas.  Placing my bloom on the map of Texas, over Houston town, he closed the book and clamped it shut with a piece of Kapton tape.  He said come July, when our mission is over, he will present this to her in person.  I thought that something must be wrong for both of them had tears.  In space, tears do not run down your cheeks but remain as a glob in the corner of your eye.

 

February 16

There was excited talk about my blossoms today.  They were all looking forward to seeing little zucchinis in space.  I did not have the heart to tell them one small detail.  I make two kinds of flowers; male flowers with only stamens and female flowers that produce zucchinis.  Being part of this all man-crew, it was fitting for me to make only male flowers.

 

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

On the Trails of Stars

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The sky is not the limit for producing artistic compositions. Put a camera on a tripod, point at a dark starry sky, and hold the shutter open for about 10 minutes, and the image will show stars as circular arcs. Normally, these star trails are created as the Earth rotates on its axis, with the center being close to either Polaris, the north star, or the Southern Cross, depending on which hemisphere you are in.

I got the idea to do the same thing from Space Station; however, the physics of orbit adds a special twist. As Space Station orbits, it keeps one side always facing the Earth (the nadir direction from our point of view). This requires the Station to complete one revolution about its axis each orbit, just like the Moon. ISS rotates about its center of mass, which happens to be in the Unity, or Node 1 module. So it rotates almost aligned with the Station’s long, backbone-like truss.

Space Station makes one revolution every 90 minutes (the Moon takes 28 days). As a result, long-exposure pictures taken from the Station show star trails as circular arcs, with the center of rotation being the poles of Space Station (perpendicular to our orbital plane). Space Station is inclined 51.6° from Earth’s equator, so the “poles” are now at 38.4°.

My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible, due to electronic detector noise effectively snowing out the image. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then “stack” them using imaging software, thus producing the longer exposure.

Due to our altitude, it is possible to see both the north and south axis of our orbit at the same time. This makes possible star trail images with two circles defined by arcs with opposite inflections. This geometry is hard to arrange from only one window so I use a fisheye lens, one with a full 180° image circle, to make this composition.

In addition to the star trails, many other phenomena of nature can be seen. But I’ll save that topic for another post.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Blood and Treasure

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Gold, silk, andspices were tangible treasures from past exploration. The Conquistadors wereparticularly good at extracting gold from the local inhabitants. Sir FrancisDrake, before he acquired the title of “Sir,” brought back enough treasure fromhis circumnavigation of the globe to provide more than half the income for theBritish crown for an entire year. The frontiers of space likewise offertreasures won from exploration, treasures that will enrich our lives andenhance our standard of living. These treasures are golden but not gold. Theycontain secrets about the biochemistry of life, and will allow us to increaseour understanding of how life functions. No more silver and gold; from SpaceStation we have blood, spit, and urine, treasures that contain secrets morevaluable than a chest filled with pillaged Aztec gold. With MELFI

On SpaceStation, we are human guinea pigs for a wide variety of medical experiments.The weightlessness of space offers a biochemical challenge to our bodies, whichdevelop a host of fascinating maladies such as bone decalcification, cataracts,retina swelling, eye focus shifts, smooth muscle atrophy, fluid imbalance,gross weight loss, cardiovascular degeneration, and more. In spite of thesemaladies, humans can thrive in space, proving that as a species, we are a hardylot and can explore places where we were never meant to go. 

Themicrogravity of Space Station allows for yet one more experimental variable,offering an amazing and unique environment in which to study human physiology.Mother Earth throughout time has tormented creatures with every possiblevariation of environmental parameters. She has tweaked temperatures from hot tocold, pressures from high to low, chemical compositions from reducing to oxidizingand acid to base, and more. She has thrown stones at us from space and spewedout molten rock and ash from within. The layers of rocks are littered withfossils of hapless creatures that could not make the grade, or, through nofault of their own, were simply caught in the wrong epoch of geologic time. Thehistory of life on Earth is the story of species extinction, a fascinatingthought for those of us that are still here and can contemplate such aconstruct. 

With all thischange, with all this process, throughout all the evolution, the one factorthat has been constant for billions of years is the magnitude of Earth’sgravity. Now we can venture off the planet and for the first time in thehistory of life, vary the influence of gravity by a factor of one million. Thefact that we can survive in space is in itself an amazing discovery. We trulyare off in a new frontier, one that life has never seen on Earth, and it is onthis frontier that physiological secrets can be pried from the people who gothere. 

As the crew of SpaceStation, we routinely puncture veins, drool on cotton swabs, and urinate inbags. These samples are processed in centrifuges, sprinkled with preservatives,placed in tubes, and stored in MELFI, better known as “the freezer.” Kept at -98° C, these samples are stored for monthsbefore return passage to Earth can be arranged. To ensure safe passage of thesetreasures through the ride back to Earth, NASA has developed a special cold boxthat keeps them frozen for several days, ensuring unthawed recovery by groundcrews, happy life science researchers, and crew members relieved to know thattheir bloodletting was not in vain. 

The cold boxesthemselves are an engineering marvel. They are nearly equal in thermalconductivity to a vacuum dewar (Thermos bottle) with only a fraction of themass. They are made from truly space-aged materials; aerogel and Mylar. Aerogelis the most gossamer solid material known. Appearing more like solid smoke,aerogel has a density only 10 times greater than that of air (steel has adensity 7,000 times greater than air) making it one of the best thermalinsulators known, bested only by vacuum. Aerogel is brittle, readily crumbinginto dust. To prevent this eventuality, it is placed inside a skin of Mylar(plastic) film. The air is then sucked out, making this structure as rigid as avacuum-packed bag of coffee (which feels brick-hard until the package isopened). These Mylar-packed aerogel structures can be made into odd shapes,enabling cold boxes to fit in unused pie-shaped spacecraft volumes. 

When newtechnology is developed, other unintended uses often surface. Such was the casefor the cold box. Developed for space, it ended up in Antarctica, not forkeeping things cold but for keeping them warm. In 2006-2007, I had the goodfortune to live in a tent about 200 miles from the South Pole during ascientific expedition to Antarctica as part of a meteorite gathering teamcalled ANSMET (Antarctic Search for Meteorites). The conditions found inAntarctica preserve and concentrate meteorites, a discovery not realized untilthe early 1970’s. They accumulate on the surface of the blue glacier ice, andbecause they appear as strongly contrasting black specks from a distance, theycan be recognized from afar and gathered like cosmic Easter eggs. For the last30 years, annual expeditions working during the short Antarctic summers havegathered over 20,000 meteorites. During our six-week stay, we advanced thisnumber by 850. 

Living in atent under primitive conditions, the ambient temperature danced around -20° C throughout the continuous daylight ofthe Antarctic summer day. Including wind chill, the effective temperature was-40° C. At such temperature levels, it does not matter what scale is used.In our tents, the floor temperature stayed at -20° C and the chimney varied from -20° C to +20° C, depending on whether the stove waslit. Any water-based substance became a frozen lump. Most electronic devicesrefuse to operate under these conditions; from batteries that do not makesparks (lithium-ion batteries do not like to be charged if less than 0° C), LCD displays that give only blankstares, or hard drives that do not turn at the right speed. 

The Antarctichot box in its former life was an engineering test article used to make thermalmeasurements for the design of the spaceflight units. Having served thatpurpose, I found it in a dank NASA cabinet, itself in cold storage andseemingly of no further use. Brought out from retirement, this high-tech spacecooler found itself strapped to a Nansen sledge, pounding through the Antarcticinterior over snow structures known as sastrugi. In a sea of cold, it offered asmall oasis of warmth. We also kept our Tabasco sauce and sourdough starter inthe hot box, demonstrating the value of having small comforts when living onthe frontier. 

Thus we beholdthe new treasure garnered from the frontier of space. Not gold or spices, butknowledge. Knowledge always has value, even if we don’t immediately know orrecognize it. The real treasure of new exploration is the larger knowledge baseand the expanded imagination we develop from it. In time, all knowledge showsitself to be useful in some way. The fact that today it is difficult topinpoint the value of space exploration shows that it is truly venturing into terra incognita, unknown territory. 

Don’s blog also appears atairspacemag.com. 

Mar del Fuego

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Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire, was what Magellan named the tip of South America in 1520. He saw the fires set by local inhabitants who did not want the Portuguese explorer to set foot on their land.

A new page in the history of this distant part of our globe is now being written. Oil has been discovered off the eastern shore of Tierra del Fuego, and Argentina is building offshore platforms to access it. Brightly lit, they appear from orbit as constellations—not in the starry sky, but on the surface of the sea. Collectively, they are one of the most brightly-lit areas I have seen anywhere on Earth (except for Las Vegas, which still holds the title). From my orbital perspective, this is no longer Tierra del Fuego but Mar del Fuego.

In these pictures taken from Space Station, the dim lights from Tierra del Fuego, visible in the background, do not hold a candle to the bright lights of the offshore oil platforms.





Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Our Fancy Coffee Machine

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During the flight of STS-126 in 2008, we carried upthree refrigerator-sized pieces of equipment. One was a toilet for the NASAside of space station. There was already one on the Russian side, so this onegave us redundancy. In the past, when the toilet broke, all work had halteduntil we fixed it. No other single piece of equipment fell into this categoryof importance. The oxygen generator could break, and maybe in a day or two wewould fix it; same with the carbon dioxide scrubber. But when the toilet broke—nowthat was serious.

The second piece of equipment we carried up was a smallchemical plant. It contained a distillation apparatus, catalytic reactors,pumps, filters, and plumbing. It was a chemical engineer’s dream. The liquideffluent from the toilet was plumbed to the inlet of this machine.

The third piece of equipment was a new galley. Itsported an injection port for filling our drink bags and rehydratingfreeze-dried food with our choice of hot or room-temperature water. It also hada hot box for warming thermally stabilized meat pouches (canned meat withoutthe can) and a small refrigerator—not for science samples, but for the crew’sfood. The inlet to the galley was plumbed into the outlet of the chemicalplant. This completed what we call our regenerative life support system. Simplyput, what goes out one end is processed, reworked, and put back in the otherend.

Water is an essential ingredient not just for us, butfor all life forms that we recognize. And water is always in short supply on aspacecraft. There may be water shortages in some places on Earth, butspaceflight redefines the meaning of the word “desert.” Closing the water loopwill therefore be essential technology when humans venture away from Earth forlong periods of time. If the toilet fails on a mission to Mars, the crew willrun out of water and die. Earth orbit, where spare parts and engineeringknowledge are close by, is the ideal place to refine this technology andproduce equipment that is truly robust. I call this engineering research; it iscomplementary to scientific research, and is one of the more importantactivities that we conduct on space station.

Nowhere on Earth do we recycle urine using portablemachinery. Not in Antarctica, not on ships at sea, not in our driest deserts.We choose to let Earth do the recycling, not a machine. Our recycling system onspace station is not a one-time demonstration, nor a test of astronauts’ability to handle the “yuck factor.” It’s a day-in, day-out operation, designedas an integral part of the overall spacecraft water balance. With thistechnology, we are truly on the frontier, and we have serial number 001 of acomplex machine. Of course it breaks down—constantly. And of course, we arealways fixing it. Of course there is a steady stream of spare parts arrivingfrom Earth. Any new technology is like this. The first crews arriving at Marswill thank us for our urine-stained hands.

Morning is a time for comfortable habits, and so it ison space station. Each morning I float out (“getting up” is obviously agravity-centric expression) and do my daily routine. I can hear the rumbles ofthe chemical plant. It vibrates the deck rails and gives your feet a massage atthe same time. Then I float over to the galley and make a bag of coffee. Konais one of my favorites; I can feel the caffeine race to my brain and stimulatemy thoughts. It occurs to me that our regenerative life support equipment isreally just a fancy coffee machine. It makes yesterday’s coffee into today’scoffee.

Don’s blog alsoappears at airspacemag.com.

Earth Photography: It’s Harder Than It Looks

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From my orbital perspective, I am sitting still and Earth is moving. I sit above the grandest of all globes spinning below my feet, and watch the world speed by at an amazing eight kilometers per second (288 miles per minute, or 17,300 miles per hour).

 

This makes Earth photography complicated.

 

Even with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, eight meters (26 feet) of motion occurs during the exposure. Our 400-millimeter telephoto lens has a resolution of less than three meters on the ground. Simply pointing at a target and squeezing the shutter always yields a less-than-perfect image, and precise manual tracking must be done to capture truly sharp pictures. It usually takes a new space station crewmember a month of on-orbit practice to use the full capability of this telephoto lens.

 

Another surprisingly difficult aspect of Earth photography is capturing a specific target. If I want to take a picture of Silverton, Oregon, my hometown, I have about 10 to 15 seconds of prime nadir (the point directly below us) viewing time to take the picture. If the image is taken off the nadir, a distorted, squashed projection is obtained. If I float up to the window and see my target, it’s too late to take a picture. If the camera has the wrong lens, the memory card is full, the battery depleted, or the camera is on some non-standard setting enabled by its myriad buttons and knobs, the opportunity will be over by the time the situation is corrected. And some targets like my hometown, sitting in the middle of farmland, are low-contrast and difficult to find. If more than a few seconds are needed to spot the target, again the moment is lost. All of us have missed the chance to take that “good one.” Fortunately, when in orbit, what goes around comes around, and in a few days there will be another chance.

 

It takes 90 minutes to circle the Earth, with about 60 minutes in daylight and 30 minutes in darkness. The globe is equally divided into day and night by the shadow line, but being 400 kilometers up, we travel a significant distance over the nighttime earth while the station remains in full sunlight. During those times, as viewed from Earth, we are brightly lit against a dark sky. This is a special period that makes it possible for people on the ground to observe space station pass overhead as a large, bright, moving point of light. This condition lasts for only about seven minutes; after that we are still overhead, but are unlit and so cannot be readily observed.

 

Ironically, when earthlings can see us, we cannot see them. The glare from the full sun effectively turns our windows into mirrors that return our own ghostly reflection. This often plays out when friends want to flash space station from the ground as it travels overhead. They shine green lasers, xenon strobes, and halogen spotlights at us as we sprint across the sky. These well-wishers don’t know that we cannot see a thing during this time. The best time to try this is during a dark pass when orbital calculations show that we are passing overhead. This becomes complicated when highly collimated light from lasers are used, since the beam diameter at our orbital distance is about one kilometer, and this spot has to be tracking us while in the dark. And of course we have to be looking. As often happens, technical details complicate what seems like a simple observation. So far, all attempts at flashing the space station have failed.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Leonardo’s Closet

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On space station, we have a closet module. Its prosaic name is PMM, an acronym that has metamorphosed beyond the original assemblage of words to become a noun on its own, pronounced pee-em-em (only at NASA can we create new words without vowels). In a former life, it was an MPLM (another vowel-less word), a special transport container that flew up and down to space station in the back of the Space Shuttle. Made in Italy for NASA, the PMM was formally christened Leonardo—obviously named after a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

On my STS-126 Shuttle flight, I had the pleasure of moving Leonardo from the Shuttle payload bay and berthing it to the nadir hatchway on the station’s Node 2, using the Canadian robotic arm. Operating the Canada arm is a bit like working with a fancy backhoe, and requires its own skills. Once the module was berthed, we opened the hatch and unloaded many tons of much-needed equipment and supplies over the next 12 days.

For its return voyage, we loaded it up with garbage and trash. Included in the trash were bags of urine left over from human physiological experiments. These weren’t ordinary bags of urine; these were eight-month-old bags of urine. I did not need to read the label—my nose could identify the contents. We brought garbage-laden Leonardo home, but due to bad weather at the Cape, we landed at Edwards in California. It took another week before the Shuttle was transported home, and another week after that before Leonardo was removed from the payload bay and placed in its holding fixture. That was followed by the Christmas holiday. By the time folks got around to opening Leonardo, it had been sitting for well over a month, and some of the bags had leaked all over the inside of the module. I happened to be at the Cape the day after the technicians opened the hatch. It was not a pretty sight. I felt partly responsible, since I had been the one who did the orbital packing. I offered, but the technicians would not let me help clean up the mess.

Inside the PMM

In orbit, the Leonardo module is for me a special place. It is cool, quiet, soothing—a good place to reflect and recharge. But like most closets on Earth, the PMM is a total mess. The crew is so busy maintaining and utilizing space station that no one has time to properly arrange things, despite our good intentions. A typical clutter-creating scenario might go like this: Say you are in the middle of working on the station’s control system. Swapping out motherboards is a delicate task, akin to doing computer brain surgery. If you bend a pin while inserting a card, you can fry the whole works, and there are precious few spare parts. In the midst of this intensity your stomach starts rumbling, with the associated low blood sugar shakes. Your watch shows that you have been at this for hours without a break. So you fly over to Node 1 and dive into the module where the primary stocks are located, only to find that the pantry is down to vegetables and tofudibeast. You need meat and potatoes to keep going, so you float over to the PMM and pull out a new “meats in pouches” package. At the galley, you cut open a meat pouch, only to have a big bloop of gravy squirt out and make a mess. Reaching for the wipes, you discover that the last one had been dispensed to clean up the previous gravy squirt. Flying to PMA 1 (the connecting tunnel between the U.S. and Russian segments), where the hygiene supplies are kept, you find that the staging bag for dry wipes is empty. Once again you dive into the PMM, searching for the mother lode of dry wipes. You refill the PMA 1 staging bag, and clean up your mess.

All of these packages have a nine-digit bar code. We are required to log these in our inventory management system, but often the bar code reader does not work. For this case of 20 dry wipe packages and a meats-in-pouches package, you have to write down 189 alpha-numeric characters (without a mistake). These numbers must later be typed up in a crew note or called down to mission control. So you think, “I will do all this inventory paperwork later.”

That’s how the PMM gets to be a mess.

When spare moments present themselves, I will go into the PMM and straighten up the clutter. Floating among the bags undulating on their anchor chords, I have the sensation of scuba diving in a kelp bed thicket. Then I catch up on the inventory paperwork. With luck, I’m able to scribble down all those nine-digit bar code numbers correctly.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

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