Saturday Morning in Space
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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).
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:
Of course, I also devoted some time to simply looking out the window.
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.
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.