My return to Earth with the Soyuz was an intense experience. After undocking we conducted some tests and orbited Earth one more time. Above the South-Atlantic Ocean the braking motor fired for four minutes. 140 kms above Egypt the spacecraft separated into three parts. Above Iraq we entered the atmosphere and the air started to glow. The first part was beautiful, we were surrounded by an orange cocoon. After that the ride was simply unpleasant. We were pushed deeper into our chairs and suffered 4,7 times normal gravity. The parachutes opened 10 kms above the ground and our capsule shook violently. 15 minutes later we landed with a jolt. It felt like a serious car crash. Luckily, search and rescue arrived quickly to pull us out of the cramped capsule. I could not wait to get out as my leg was stuck and I could not feel my foot anymore. Once I was sitting in the chair in front of the television camera I was laughing again. That was the moment I thought: yes, it is all over, everything will be fine. Continue reading
The six of us on the Space Station live quite isolated from the world. But we are not the only people in such a situation. Before my mission started I asked if I could be in contact with two other missions. One on the bottom of the sea and one on the South Pole. I had very special conversations with people that are in similar situations or even more isolated. Continue reading
Two more days to go before my stay in space will end. I managed to complete three important tasks before I have to leave. I inspected cooling fluid valves for the Columbus laboratory, fixed an American scientific experiment rack and worked on the Japanese Ryutai rack. We do many maintenance tasks in the ISS. Maintenance must be done in a timely fashion to assure that the Space Station is used optimally for our scientific experiments. Continue reading
The ISS repeatedly flew across the “terminator” over the last weeks. The terminator is the border between day and night on Earth. Flying in this orbit is a weird feeling as we see the Sun continuously on the horizon. It came in handy to take pictures of the Venus transit but night-time photography was out of the question unfortunately. I focussed on the golden-yellow reflection of the Sun on Earth instead. This makes beautiful pictures as well. I don’t have much time to take pictures at the moment. It seems like my mission has gone into overdrive. Continue reading
When I return through Earth's atmosphere in my Soyuz I will have spent 193 days in space. My mission will have been the longest European space flight in history. Everything went well thanks to the thousands of people on ground that continuously keep an eye on us. Safety is number one priority in human space flight. Missions such as mine are inherently risky. In the last few weeks I started an experiment that looks at one of these risks: Altea Shield. Read on...
Just three more weeks. I am counting down to my return. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I want to go home and see my family and friends. On the other hand I do not want to leave because I know I will never return to space. I have accepted that I will not be able to do everything that I had planned for this mission. I will not be able to take a daytime picture of The Netherlands without any clouds for example. It will not be possible as the Space Station’s orbit is not optimal for taking pictures of The Netherlands in the coming weeks. I tried many times in the last few months but the weather was usually not good. The Netherlands lay beneath a white cover of clouds. When the clouds cleared we orbited Holland early in the morning and the view was hazy. Continue reading
In the past weeks I have been doing many ‘life science’ experiments investigating human behaviour in weightlessness. I worked with the Fluid Science Laboratory examining liquids in space. I also conducted maintenance work and small repairs. Just like a laboratory on Earth, maintenance and repair is important to keep everything running smoothly. Some experiments on the Station run autonomously. These ‘boxes’ can be controlled from Earth. Astronauts unpack the hardware from cargo ships, install the equipment and turn it on or off. If problems occur we see how we can solve them together with ground control. I help the scientists on Earth. They design and build the experiments. I am here to make sure the experiments can be run in microgravity. Continue reading
The Dragon cargo ferry only visited us for a short time. It left after a week. But it was an impressive mission for me personally, as I helped dock and later detach it from the Space Station. It was an impressive mission also for the thousands of people on Earth who worked on Dragon and indeed for the whole of humankind. Many people might not realise it but this mission is a milestone for space history. I was unloading equipment from the Dragon and looked behind one of the storage racks. I had already seen the Dragon capsule in an assembly hall in California and I knew what I would see: a window! This is the future. This space craft will be transporting four people to and from space in about three years’ time.
There are six of us again on the Space Station. Two weeks ago the Soyuz TMA-04M arrived with Gennady Padalka, Sergei Revin and Joe Acaba. It was a special moment. We listened to Russian flight control communicate with the new crew on the radio. I felt the spacecraft dock with a bump. After the necessary safety checks we opened the hatch and ISS crew was back to full strength: six people. Continue reading