ATV Albert Einstein: welcome aboard!

First video still from docking port. Credits: ESA

Luca’s perspective on the arrival of ATV-4.

Welcome aboard Albert Einstein! Once again, ESA’s spacecraft, the flagship of the International Space Station’s cargo fleet, behaved perfectly, arriving at the station with no problems at all.

Our European engineers, working for many years on the ATV project (Automated Transfer Vehicle) manage to make the extremely complex look easy : a spaceship carrying more than 7 tonnes of material, gas, water and experiments is put in orbit, travels millions of kilometres and then docks autonomously with an accuracy of 1 centimetre!

During the last hours of ATV’s approach and docking, I was responsible for monitoring all onboard systems together with fellow cosmonaut Alexander "Sasha" Misurkin. To learn more about why this task is necessary and about the difficulties that may arise, read my earlier post in the Shenanigans09 blog.

ATV-4 is now ‘parked’ at the back of the International Space Station where docking occurred. It is perfectly stable and receives power from the Station to keep its instruments running. Inside, all the lights are still out.

ATV-4 firing thrusters approaching S3 hold point. Credits: NASA

On Monday morning, Sasha and I will open the hatch that connects to the Station for the first time and a long configuration will start. I will be the first to enter ATV-4, initially with goggles and mask, to avoid the possibility of coming into contact with dust or any other any agent that may be hazardous. I will switch the lights on for the first time and then, with Alexander’s help, I will install an atmosphere purification system. Once we have removed any doubt of possible contamination from dust or other harmful substances, we will start shifting cargo from ATV-4 to the Station. All crew members will be involved in this but I will be in charge of operations (the so-called Loadmaster). It might seem like a simple task but it involves a very precise choreography that must be followed to perfection because in the case of an emergency, ATV-4 must be able to undock at any time. If that were to happen we need to know where everything is. In addition, unloading must be done in a certain way to keep the centre of gravity stable so calculations made by specialists on the ground remain correct .

Another reason why unloading operations are complicated is because of weightlessness. Whereas carrying heavy goods does not require as much effort as it does on Earth, installing them presents unexpected difficulties. It is very easy to lose track of what has been moved and where it has been placed since nothing stays in place if not tied down. All containers look very similar and they can only be distinguished by a code so it is easy confuse them. Finally, it is true that on the International Space Station we are weightless but as I explained in a previous entry, our mass is always with us and when we add the mass of other objects, sometimes very large ones, our problems become accentuated (I dare not imagine what would happen if I lost control ...).

Astronaut food. Credits: ESA/Argotec

My colleagues and I are committed to do our very best and we are looking forward to start work: apart from the experiments, oxygen and water, ATV-4 also brings personal clothing and food, among which of course the culinary art of Italian cuisine will be a cherry on the cake. There is nothing like the promise of an Italian dinner that I will offer from my personal supply to entice my colleagues to work quickly and well!

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17 Responses to ATV Albert Einstein: welcome aboard!

  1. Helen Levenduski says:

    Where can I find an explanation of the significance of your 'mass always being with you' in weightlessness? (Missed your previous entry)

    • Inti says:

      I suppose it means while weight is gone, momentum is still there, and thus it's harder to control massive objects. The water pump, for example, may be weightless, but its mass is still 90kg, and if you were to fling it around the Station, stopping it would require quite some force.

  2. Italian Man says:

    In the photo i have read "lasagne"... i suppose you will eat italian food! Enjoy your meal!

    Nella foto ho letto lasagne... suppongo che mangerai cibo italiano! Buon appetito!

  3. viviana governi says:

    I'll wish you a good italian dinner!!
    Thanks for your work on board the ISS..The world entire will be thankful to you ..I suppose that the weightlessness is so fascinating but probbaly not so easy!! Ciao

  4. Terry Savo says:

    ma quelle... sono le lasagne di Scabin??? poi ci dirai se sono davvero da chef Stellato!!! slurp!!!

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  15. Antonio Lo Campo says:

    Ciao Luca! Non so se dirti buongiorno o buonasera (dipende che da parte la ISS sta orbitando in questo momento...).
    Approfitto del Tuo blog per girarti una lettera di una lettrice del mensile "Le Stelle", che ci ha chiesto se era possibile fartela pervenire; è arrivata in redazione, e me l' ha girata Piero Bianucci, che ne è consulente editoriale.
    Un caro saluto da Torino (dove di tanto in tanto vi vediamo transitare...meteo permettendo...).
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Saluto tutta la Redazione e premetto che per me leggere “le Stelle” è un po’ come essere fra amici quando si ha voglia di un certo tipo di conversazione che non sempre, o quasi mai, si ha la possibilità di avere, almeno per quanto mi riguarda.
    Vorrei che queste mie parole arrivassero all’astronauta Luca Parmitano, che adesso ci guarda effettivamente da lassù, dove orbita la Stazione spaziale internazionale.
    Innanzi tutto desidero fargli sapere che è nei miei pensieri, così come le altre persone che sono con lui, veri e propri eroi al servizio dell’umanità.
    Ormai, grazie ai voli spaziali, tutti sappiamo come appare la Terra vista da fuori, e infatti quando guardo il cielo mi sento parte di esso e di un unico mondo, così piccolo e indifeso, e immerso nell’ignoto.
    Vorrei conoscere le sensazioni che prova nell’osservarci dalla sua piccola postazione in orbita, se ha la tentazione di volerla abbandonare – dato che deve resistere lassù per sei mesi – e tornare fra noi, oppure si sente tranquillo, assorbito dai molteplici compiti che gli sono stati assegnati.
    Una cosa secondo me è certa, e cioè che la vita non è qualcosa di soprannaturale ma fa parte di un gioco crudele, come conseguenza di situazioni che sono venute a crearsi, potremmo dire, casualmente. E questo gioco lo chiamiamo Esistenza.
    L’uomo farebbe meglio a ridimensionarsi, tenendo presente la sua insignificanza, o meglio mostrandosi grato, quantomeno, alla fortuna che avuto nell’essere messo in gioco.
    Potrei prolungarmi in questo discorso, ma in se così facessi parlerei dei miei pensieri e non di quelli che Parmitano e altri hanno effettivamente (o che devono avere “per contratto” facendo il loro lavoro di astronauti. In ogni modo invio un mio “in bocca al lupo”, augurando loro che possano tornare soddisfatti e contenti per la loro impresa su questa nostra misera Terra.
    Vorrei ora rivolgere un quesito (chiedendo anticipatamente scusa della mia innocente ingenuità). E’ un quesito che mi si ingarbuglia nel cervello ogniqualvolta tento di districarlo. Eccolo: se possiamo andare indietro nel tempo raggiungendo quasi il punto di partenza dell’universo, perché nello stesso modo non possiamo andare avanti a sbirciare nell’avvenire? Siamo NOI attualmente il punto di arrivo? O forse tutto quello che ho detto finora è da rivedere?
    Umilmente,
    Roberta da Pescara
    Addì 1° giugno 2013. Ciao!

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