June 2010 Star City Training Trip Winding Down
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).
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.
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!