Fragile Oasis

Connecting Space and Earth: Learn. Act. Make a Difference.
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Training & Tribute: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City, Russia

Photo: RSA

Well, the second week of training in Star City has ended and it has been a busy week. The prime and backup crews of Expedition 25 have completed all the required pre-launch training in both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Russian Segment of the International Space Station.  Last week we had meetings at Mission Control, just outside of Moscow, with Soyuz and Space Station specialists. We were briefed on the status of the Space Station, the scheduled flight plan, and some of the experiments that will be conducted on board.

Photo: S.P.Korolev RSC Energia

Scott Kelly and I also traveled to the Rocket &
Space Corporation (RSC) Energia in the Korolev area of Moscow.  There we received training on the actual equipment that comprises the Russian docking systems and hatches. I was also trained on the video and photo equipment located in the Russian segment of the Space Station as well as the Russian tool kit. More pictures from our trip to Energia can be found at this link.

Next week we will face the “Commission” in our final exams to determine our readiness for flight.  We will have a day-long exam in the Soyuz simulator followed the next day by a day-long exam in the Space Station simulator.  Later in the week, we will travel down to Moscow to go before the Commission, conduct media interviews and visit Red Square to lay flowers on the tomb of Yuri Gagarin. It should be an interesting week to say the least.

Besides all the preparation and training last week I also was fitted for a devise called “Braslet.”  Braslet was designed by the Russians to counteract the effects of fluid shift on orbit. As soon as the rocket engines shutdown and we arrive in a weightless environment, all the fluid in our bodies that is normally “weighed down” on Earth begins to migrate from our lower extremities to our upper body and head. Braslet is an ingeniously simply device designed to compress the upper thigh to slow the venous return of blood from the legs to the heart. Basically, I was wired up with all kinds of sensors and placed on a tilt table. Braslet devises which are really nothing more than tourniquets, were placed on my upper thigh and tightened. I was tilted head down for awhile and felt a marked decrease in pressure in my head when compared to the heads down position without the Braslets. After remaining in this position for awhile, the Braslets were abruptly released which allowed the blood to rush to my head which felt very much like the sensation right as the rocket engines shutdown.

Photo taken by the late Dr. Greg Shashkan

There is a collaborative research project with the Russian Space Agency and NASA to quantify the effects of the devise using on board ultrasound imaging. Besides the obvious benefit to future space flight, the study of the physiological responses to altered fluid distribution may lead to increased insight into the diagnosis and treatment of terrestrial conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

I want to end this post with a tribute. We ended our week with a memorial for our NASA Star City Flight Surgeon, Greg Shaskan, who died suddenly and unexpectedly the week before last. The memorial was attended by the American and Russian members of the NASA Star City Office and all the astronauts currently training in Star City. Gathering with our colleagues to celebrate the life of a great and caring man was very moving. Greg was not only a selfless member of our nation’s space program, who endured long family separations from his wife an infant daughter to care for astronauts training for spaceflight, he also was making a big positive impact on our world. He was a member of Doctors Without Borders and traveled to places like Sri Lanka after the tsunami to provide medical care to those affected.  Greg was not satisfied with the status quo on our planet. He was determined to make life better for those with whom he shared this fragile oasis. My thoughts and prayers are with Greg and his family during this difficult time.