More exercise because my return is near
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. (more...)
Bye bye Dan, Anton and Anatoli. See your on Earth
Yesterday Dan, Anton and Anatoli left. We worked all night. I drew blood from Don and myself and collected saliva samples to be sent back on the the Soyuz to the scientists on Earth. Around six o'clock in the morning Western European time we said our goodbyes. At ten to seven we closed the hatch to their Soyuz. At exactly 10:18:30 they detached from the ISS to travel back to Earth. I heard the latches release and felt a small shock when springs pushed the Soyuz away. A little later I saw the Soyuz descend on its way to to a safe landing in the Kazakh Steppe, a little before two o'clock in the afternoon.
The next three weeks I will be on board with colleagues Don Pettit and Oleg Kononenko. It will be different. Quieter in our free time as we will have more room and not float into each other so quickly but busier during the day as maintenance work and experiments continue as usual. In addition a cargo ship will arrive. Unpacking ATV, Progress
and Dragon takes a lot of time, in addition we need to search for equipment to fill the cargo ships once they are unpacked.
Last Friday and Saturday we ate together. We celebrated Don's birthday with live guitar music. Dan can play very well. Wednesday was the official handover ceremony. Dan passed command to Oleg. I felt as if Expedition 31 had really begun when the Soyuz hatch closed this morning. A farewell to the crew is not an emotional affair. Of course we will miss the company and good times on board. Just as we will miss Dan's expertise and knowledge, he is a fantastic commander.
But we will see each other again in a few months back on Earth.
Back to Earth
Of course I do think about it: the next person to crawl into a Soyuz will be me. I will sit in the left seat, the first to climb in and the last to crawl out. We will follow the same procedures as the men who just left. We will undock and the flight home will be short. One moment we will be floating high above Earth and in less four hours we will be on ground. I remember from last time that it feels like a wild amusement park ride. We will feel four times heavier and once the parachute opens we will be shaken about so much that we will see twenty screens instead of two. It is the most spectacular part of my mission, more so than the launch. The last shock will be the rockets under the Soyuz providing extra braking power. Even they cannot avoid the capsule hitting Earth with the force of a small car crash. It sometimes falls over and can even roll a few times. Altogether it is not the most enjoyable part
of the mission. Especially if you imagine that our bodies have not been exposed to gravity for half a year. I will be weak and tired and sick. But I will be smiling, as it is all part of the job.
It is a little strange thinking that I will be going home. I still have over two months up here. I have many tasks to do. I am looking forward to docking the Dragon cargo ship as well as welcoming the new crew in three weeks time and conducting many more scientific experiments. As you can see, life in space is not much different from life on Earth. You stop to think of the future... until reality calls you back.
Refuge in Soyuz due to space debris
We heard on Friday that a piece of space debris would come close to the ISS and that too little data was available to perform evasive manoeuvres. The space debris turned out to be from an old Russian satellite. Its orbit was hard to predict but it would pass by us at a distance of approximately 10 kilometres. That means code red. We had to go to our safe house to wait and see if the debris would hit us. The two Soyuz spaceships function as safe houses and as lifeboats. If something were to hit us with heavy impact, then we would be already safe in our spaceship and we could return to Earth. Read on...
Return delayed and nice presents from Earth
The news came that I will be going back home later than planned. Space travel can be unpredictable in this way. A leak was found on the Sojuz capsule that was supposed to ferry the Expedition 31 crew up here. So the next Sojuz in line is being prepared quickly. It will not be ready before mid-march so the launch has been delayed by two months. This will delay landing for Dan, Anton and Anatoly. This also has consequences for myself, Don and Oleg. The delay is now six weeks and the official landing date is set for 1 July. This means that I will miss my mother’s and children’s birthdays this year as well as the graduation ceremony of my eldest daughter. And our family holiday will have to be cancelled. On the other hand I have more time to live and work up here. My days are fully packed and I am happy with any extra free time I can get…… Lees verder...
Our ‘hallway’ to the ISS and a rocket in pieces
It is freezing cold and a clear day here at the launch base in Baikonur. Hopefully it will stay this way until launch day. The first Sojuz launch that I saw myself was the launch of Frank de Winne in 2009. I did not see much due to the heavy fog. The last launch with my colleagues from Expedition 30 was during a snow storm. Luckily for the spectators of my launch the weather forecast is better. It will be very cold so they should protect themselves. Read on...
Notes for the Van Gogh museum
In between tests at the launch site we stay at the cosmonaut hotel. We have a daily programme of work and free time. It is very cold in Kazachstan, around -20 degrees Celsius. So having a jog along the river, as I did last May, when I was here as backup crew for Frank is out of the question. Luckily a well equipped gym is available for us to use. To stay sharp when flying the Sojuz on manual control we practice all types of conditions and dockings every other day in the Sojuz simulator. In reality the chances of me actually having to perform these manoeuvres are very small. Read on...
Primerka: a full fitness check of our spaceship
The day after arrival in Baikonur was a special day. We went to the launch basis. We took two separate buses of course, as the prime crew and backup crew are always separated. In a large building we saw our Sojuz capsule ready for lift-off. It is impressive to see the spaceship that will allow us to fly around the Earth. The capsule is visible in a large hall and is supported by scaffolding. The first time that we entered the spaceship as crew we were dressed in overalls. We could not enter through the side entrance as we do in the simulator in Star City. The real Sojuz does not have a door there. We had to crawl through the living quarters and from there climb down to the command module. Read on...
Met een Sojoez-capsule kom je altijd thuis!
Het was een bewogen week. Veel mensen vragen natuurlijk naar de Progress 44, het Russische vrachtschip waarvan de lancering niet volgens plan verliep. De druk liep plotseling terug in de brandstoftoevoer voor de motor van de derde rakettrap. Journalisten willen weten wat het betekent voor de bemande Sojoez-raketten, die een vergelijkbare derde rakettrap hebben. Er zijn allerlei speculaties op het internet, maar veel daarvan is voorbarig of niet gebaseerd op feiten. Voorlopig is het plan om de lancering van de Expeditie 29 bemanning uit te stellen. Verder worden er eerst nog twee onbemande Sojoez-raketten gelanceerd, om er zeker van te zijn dat alle systemen goed werken. Lees verder...
Je voelt het gebulder van de Sojoez in je maag
Alleen de reservebemanning mag de roll-out van de raket zien, de hoofdbemanning niet. Het is een van de vele tradities, het zou geluk brengen wanneer je de gereedstaande raket pas op het platform ziet als je gaat instappen. De Sojoez-raket wordt horizontaal op een treinstel uit de assemblagehal gereden, op de tijd dat ook Gagarins raket de deur uitging. Langzaam maar zeker nadert de trein het verzamelde publiek bij een spoorwegovergang in de steppe. Familie, managers van de verschillende ruimtevaartagentschappen en heel veel pers beleven iets heel bijzonders en indrukwekkends. De raket komt op een paar meter afstand voorbij op loopsnelheid, begeleid door bewapende militairen. Traditiegetrouw worden er roebels op de rails gelegd die, volledig plat geperst, als souvenirs dienen. Lees verder...