The six of us use a lot of gear on the ISS. Food and drinks, but also spare parts for repairs, fuel for the ISS and scientific experiments. All these things arrive by different supply ships. The European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) was launched from Kourou in French Guiana on the 23rd of March. Tonight it will arrive here and we will receive more supplies. Colleagues on Earth always put in something tasty for the crew such as fresh fruit. As most of our food has a shelf life of two years, you can imagine that fresh fruit is a real luxury here in space…
My Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko and I are responsible for monitoring ATV’s approach. Everything should proceed automatically but if problems occur we need to take manual control. We can even stop ATV and send it back if necessary. We trained many times preparing for this operation. We passed our exams with flying colours. But it has been a few months since we passed those exams. Some of our knowledge needs refreshing so we trained again, but this time onboard the ISS.
The simulator can simulate an ATV approach and we can practice many emergency situations. We know this is just for practice but when the real ATV approaches on our monitor, adrenaline is sure to rise. I expect everything to go smoothly. ESA has worked on ATV for years and the ATV system has proven itself twice with two successful flights. But we are always aware of risks. We are alert. That is typical of space travel: things rarely go wrong but we train continuously to deal with all things that could go wrong.
Once ATV has docked with ISS, the first thing we do is conform that everything is airtight. Then we install ventilation, lights, a smoke alarm and fire extinguishers. We keep all these things on so they do not have to keep being supplied from earth launches again and again. This saves weight and therefore fuel and money. I will be the ATV loadmaster. This means that I am responsible for unpacking and stowing all cargo. I will be spending a lot of time in and around ATV to organise the new supplies.