It has been busy again these last few days. Until the next crew arrives there are only three of us here. We have a normal workload so we are very busy. Working with just the three of us does have some positive side-effects. I have more room to move and I can plan my exercise and free time more easily. Communication with Earth is less hectic as well. The continuous talking can be irritating and tiresome as I have to always listen if they are talking to me. When six of us are up here we create a traffic jam to Huntsville or Houston. Less communication traffic makes it easier to sneak questions or reports in when I want to.
One of the most time-consuming parts in my schedule are the ‘moving tasks’. I feel like we are moving house when I unpack the European ferry ATV or prepare equipment for the Dragon and HTV ferries that will arrive soon. These tasks are open ended and spread over many days. Each day I have a few hours of work scheduled for this activity. I run the risk of wanting to finish the task in one go and working too long. I can send a few personal objects back to Earth on the Dragon such as my crew shirts and my notebooks. I never had time to write a real diary.
We are preparing for the arrival of our colleagues Joe Acaba, Sergi Revin and Gennady Padalka whom I flew with in 2004. We retrieved some clothes from the Progress and prepared the sleeping cabin. Saturday we talked to Joe. He is in quarantine at the launch facility Baikonur getting ready for tomorrow’s launch. It was good to speak to him.
Time flies! My own return is in one-and-a-half months and the first preparations for my return flight are already planned in my schedule. We tested the Soyuz seats to see if they still fit. In space we grow up to a few centimetres taller because of weightlessness. Anatoly Ivanishin was too big when he tested his seat in April. We had to make some changes to guarantee a safe trip home. My seat still fits like a glove. I will conduct a leak test of my space suit next week as well as go through the procedures and practice a manual re-entry of the Soyuz. I have done these training exercises countless times in Star City but not since launch. I refresh my knowledge on the computer simulators on the Space Station. A Dragon is also arriving that we need to dock.
Where is the leak?
Another exercise is the ‘depressurisation drill’. We simulated a leak in the Space Station. We had to find the leak while talking to ground control. First we checked the Soyuz. If something is wrong with the Soyuz we might have to abandon ship and return to Earth immediately. If the leak is not in the Soyuz we proceed to close all the modules one-by-one while calculating how much time we have left before air pressure is too low and we have to leave. We continue until we find the problem. In this case the leak was in the FGB, better known as Zarya, the Russian storage module.
Many things become ‘normal’ up here, a daily routine that does not require much thought. You do not realise that behind the thin aluminium there is no air. Exercises such as these are a good way to stay alert of the risks of a long stay space and, in case of emergency, to react adequately.