July 1 – Diary of a Space Zucchini

July 1

TodayGardener and his crew will depart in their seed pod; the replacement crew is readyto carry on in their place.  He iswearing his space suit undergarments. Not too stylish but functional.  Hegave all of us an extra long smell.  Hisnose twitched with the slightest tickle from the leaf hairs on little Zuc.  He said that what will be is for thebest.  It has been a wonderful journey;one chapter is closing, another is opening.  He had tears in his eyes, not just a smalldrop at the corners but a pool that was making him blink.  He reached up and turned out the light.  In the frontier you should not be afraid ofthe dark.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Birth of a New Moon


I saw the waning crescent moon, a small sliver of whiterising above the Earth limb. It reminded me of a glowing fingernail clipping. Likea rainbow, but only of shades of blue, the atmosphere on edge filled the gapbetween Earth and space—electrifying diaphanous beauty. 


Venus was there, watching. Aldebaran in Taurus was an orangedot. The ghost of Full Moon Past, the complete lunar disk, was dimly lit by thebluish hue of earthshine. The time was 07:45on June 18t (GMT). One orbit later, at 09:17,I saw a sliver of a sliver. Work beckoned me for the next three orbits (about fourand a half hours) before I could observe another moonrise. At 13:56, there was only the smallestglint that we even had a Moon. The next orbit I was waiting at dawn, but saw nomoon. Initially I was baffled. Then it occurred to me that I had been witnessto the birth of a New Moon. 


Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Help for Sunflower

Lyrid meteor shower

Todaywas the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. We set up four cameras in the cupola simultaneously takingpictures.  Gardener said there wereplaces on Earth that were doing the same and all these pictures taken togetherwill make a very interesting scientific data set.  Since I had been placed next to a window, Iwas living through 16 periods of day-night every 24 hours.  Jet-lagged, I could thus stay awake duringthe night and help in the observations.

Gardenerhas been spending a lot of time playing a computer game.  His computer is near our grow light so we canwatch him.  He plays in the morningbefore works starts and in the evening after work is over.  He must find this relaxing.  The game he plays is called “Catch theDragon”.  The best part about this gameis that he does not have to put in any quarters.


Sunflowerhas brown patch.  His leaves are coveredwith dry, dark blotches.  He is nothappy.  Gardener says it looks like afungus.  I am afraid that if something isnot done we are going to lose Sunflower. The crew medical kit is designed for animals not plants so there are nomedications for this disease.  Gardeneris treating Sunflower with a disinfectant wipe that has an antibacterial agentcalled BZK (Benzalkonium chloride).  Wedo not know if this is going to work. Our spacecraft is designed for animals so life can be a struggle forplants.  On the frontier, the answers arenot found in the back of the book and sometimes you have to venture into theunknown and improvise.


TheBZK wipes seem to be helping.  Gardenerpats down Sunflower’s leaves every other day. He does this with the healthy new green ones as well.  Sunflower is beginning to smile again.  Broccoli and I seem resistant to this so heis not treating us.  

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Last Day on Earth

The day before launch

    maybe gone fora year

        perhapshalf right

Your last day on Earth

    what would youdo?

Robbing the piggybank of time

    to spend it onwhat ever you desire

We live in quarantine

    a flower by anyother name

        that smellslike white collar prison 

You know your crew well

    they becomeyour second family

I have said my good byes

    the hugs aredone

        a walk onthe beach

            andtime for a good cry

You eat anything you want

    No one speaksof this as a last supper

        but it is

You time your bathroom habits

    do I drink mymorning coffee?

Like a dike holding back the sea

    will my diapersurvive

        oh themarvels of rocket science 

A solitary walk with nature





decorating my ankles with nasty red bumps

    a parting kissfrom Mother Earth

We study like students

    cramming for anexam

        this time amistake costs more than ten points 

Focus on your duties

    it won’t failbecause of me

Like Samson’s hair

    my family

        the root toall my strength

            I willreturn

Oh how does one spend your last day on Earth

    What would youdo?

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

What Makes a Mission Name?

Whatspace station crews call our “mission” is a bit more complicated thanwhat you might think. Under normal operations, there are six crew membersliving on board station. We send up a three-person crew in the Russian Soyuzspacecraft four times a year, and the launches and landings are generally timedfor spring and fall, to avoid severe weather in Kazakhstan.* This results inSoyuz crew overlaps of either four months or two months, with each three-personcrew staying for about six months.

There are a number of advantages in this scheme, particularly during handover,when the newly arriving crew (we’re expecting one tonight) learns from the seasoned crew all the onerous nuances impossible to knowexcept by being onboard.

Crews on space station are called “Expeditions,” a fitting name for acollection of explorers living on the frontier. Since there are two possiblethree-crew overlaps for each expedition, there are two possible expeditionnumbers that span a set of nine individuals. In addition, each crew of threearrives in a Soyuz with a designated engineering number, plus a space stationmission number and a crew-chosen call sign. Thus, for my mission, I amExpedition 30 for four months, Expedition 31 for two months, and a crew memberfor Soyuz TMA-03M and Soyuz 29s, with call sign Antares.

This all gets multiplied by two, since we automatically function as backupcrews for the mission that flies six months before us. So I am also backup crewfor Expedition 28/29, on Soyuz TMA-02M and Soyuz 27s, with call sign Eridianus.

Then there are the management teams on the ground. These are people who workrelentlessly through weekends and holidays to support the lucky crew members onspace station. These management teams are called “Increments,” andthey have numbers that usually correspond to the expedition numbers. Sometimes,though, these can get shifted to adjacent mission numbers. Of course, thenomenclature for increments, like expeditions, also gets multiplied by two,since every prime crew participates as backup crew for an earlier increment.When talking to crewmembers, people will speak in expeditions; when talking toNASA planners, they will speak in increments. Like the blind men feeling theelephant, we tend to describe our work from our immediate perspective. It isunderstandable that these subtleties can lead to confusion.

That’s why, when someone asks me what mission I am flying, the answer mightlead to a conversation something like this: “I am backup crew forExpedition 28/29, also known as Increment 28/29, in Soyuz TMA-02M, or Soyuz27s, called Eridianus, but am prime crew for Expedition 30/31 in Increment30/31 for Soyuz TMA-03M, or Soyuz 29s, called Antares.” This kind ofanswer baffles even my fellow astronauts. I have decided that my missionidentity is simply going to be dictated by the one with the largest three-crewoverlap. Hence, I call myself Expedition 30. If you want the details, beprepared to settle in for a long conversation.

*There are exceptions. Expedition 29 (also known as Expedition 30, Increment29, Increment 30, Soyuz TMA-22, or Soyuz 28s, with call sign Astraeus) slippedtwo months and launched in a November snowstorm so severe that from the viewingstation only 1½ kilometers away, neither the rocket nor the launch pad werevisible. At engine ignition, the TV cameras discovered they were pointed in thewrong direction, and quickly panned to the rocket, which appeared like a giant,slowly moving road flare-which was visible for perhaps 15 seconds before becomingcompletely obscured.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Diary of a Space Zucchini

March 26
I havenew leaves!  I am no longer naked to thecosmos.  They are not as big as beforehowever they are just as green.  Broccoliand Sunflower have leaves as well and are vibrant.  We all have happy roots.  This is a hard to explain to a non-plant, butI am feeling very zucchini now.

March 27
We areall back in the space flight game. Tomorrow is a big day.  Anunplanted spacecraft is arriving with a cargo of much needed supplies.  If the automatics fail,we as crew have to be prepared to take over in the final stages ofdocking.  I am ready; it will not failbecause of me. 

March 28
Thecargo spacecraft arrived and docked without any problems.  We have had all this training, we haveprepared with leaf and stem just in case things go wrong.  There is a small voice inside that would likethe chance to use this training, thus saving the day in the face of amalady.  On the frontier of space, it isunwise to wish for malfunctions; you do not want to be a hero.

We had along and tiring week.  There was muchactivity that took us well into Friday evening. We were all looking forward to some off duty time.  Gardener said he would treat us to somewindow time.  There is nothing likecatching a few rays to green up the foliage. Saturday morning, the big gardener that speaks from the wall told us thecargo vehicle had an electrical failure and might need to undergo a contingencyundock in the next day or two.  It wasplanned to stay docked for months where we could unpack the supplies in anorderly process over a three-week period. To save our precious supplies, we had one day to do three weeks ofwork.  With all the large bags floatingby, it was good to stay out of the way. Any one of them could have easily smash us into salad.  Later that evening, Gardener came by and wepresented him with our vibrant green and tickled his nose with our fresharoma.  When we saw a tired smile come tohis face, we knew we had done our part in this contingency.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.

Space Is My Mistress

Aurora over Earth

Seeing as how April is National Poetry Month….

Space is My Mistress

Space is my Mistress,
and she beckons myreturn.
Since our departure I think of you
and yearn to fly across the heavens arm in arm.
I marvel at your figure,
defined by theedges of continents.
You gaze at me with turquoise eyes,
perhaps mistaken for ocean atolls.
Youtease me to fall into your bosom,
sculptured by tectonicrifts,
only to move away as if playing some tantalizinggame.
Time and time we turn together,
through day, and night, and day,
repeatingencounters every 90 minutes with a freshness,
as if we havenever seen our faces before.
We stroll outside together,
enveloped by naked cosmos,
filled withdesire to be one.
So close,
you sense myevery breath,
which masks your stare through visor haze.
We dance on the swirls of cloud tops,
whileskirting the islands of blue.
You know my heart beats fastfor you.
Oh, Space is my mistress,
andwhen our orbits coincide,
we will once again make streaks ofaurora across the sky.

Don’s blog also appears at airspacemag.com.