Monthly Archives: August 2013

Scenes from life in space: part 2

Pavel Expedition 36 commander Pavel Vinogradov is a very experienced cosmonaut who always has a friendly smile on his face. Every time he sees me – our paths normally cross 2 or 3 times a day – he tries to greet me in Italian, promptly calling me ‘signora’ (‘madam’ in Italian), wishing me ‘good evening’ even if it’s 10:00 in the morning, or delighting me with a ‘bonjour!’. But his smile is contagious and if I correct him, he laughs heartily, bringing his hand to his forehead with a resounding ‘kanieshna’ (‘of course!’ in Russian) and thanking me. We usually speak in Russian though, and a few days ago I had a...

Scenes from life in space

Saturday Today Karen and Chris have been busy all morning, first with monitoring the approach of HTV-Kounotori 4 – the “White Stork” that brings us Japanese supplies, experiments and materials – then with its capture, performed with grace and skill by Karen. As I wrote upon the arrival of ATV-4, the arrival of a cargo vehicle is always exciting. Unlike the cargo ships that automatically dock to the Russian segment, those of the American segment are ‘captured’ by the Canadarm2, which is controlled by an operator. So far, the Japanese freight vehicles have been very stable but the capture operation is still extremely delicate and many hours of training are devoted to...

EVA 23: exploring the frontier

My eyes are closed as I listen to Chris counting down the atmospheric pressure inside the airlock – it’s close to zero now. But I’m not tired – quite the reverse! I feel fully charged, as if electricity and not blood were running through my veins. I just want to make sure I experience and remember everything. I’m mentally preparing myself to open the door because I will be the first to exit the Station this time round. Maybe it’s just as well that it’s night time: at least there won’t be anything to distract me. When I read 0.5 psi, it’s time to turn the handle and pull up the hatch. It...

Message in a bottle

One of the parameters of the Station’s orbit around the Earth is the beta angle, which determines the direction from which the Sun’s rays will hit us. We don’t usually bother too much about this parameter because it doesn’t affect our day-to-day life, except in certain situations: when the beta angle is very elevated, as it has been these past few days, we spend long periods in sunlight. Daytime becomes relatively long, while the nights are very short. This makes it difficult for us to look out of the Station and see our planet at night, because the Earth is in shadow while we are still in the light. As a consequence,...

Night Flight (with apologies to De Saint-Exupery)

It’s Monday evening, and after a really busy day on the Station, exhaustion is setting in – even at zero G. After dinner, I’m overcome by lethargy. I see the same thought written on the faces of my fellow travellers, Karen and Chris, and I know that tonight I’ll be the one turning out the lights because they’ll be in bed before me. This evening I’ve got a date I don’t want to miss, even if it means that my alarm clock will hurt more that usual tomorrow morning. It’s a special appointment just for me, to see my country as I have never seen it before. According to our orbital planes,...

HTV-4 and a reminder that working in space is not like ...

ESA Mission Director Roland Luettgens gives an update of the latest activities and tells us about the challenges of working in space. We had a very busy week last week because sometimes things do not work out as planned. We had planned a long-awaited activity for Luca: installing our new microscope inside the Biolab laboratory. “We have worked for more than two years to get this new microscope built and sent to the International Space Station”, explains ESA Mission Director Roland Luettgens. Luca installed the microscope last week and as expected we needed to perform a check afterwards. Luca called and wanted to know the results. “No joy” was the bad news...

All in a week’s work

After the excitement of the two EVAs, we got back into our routine work, if you can call it that. This week’s ‘menu’ has featured a lot of science and maintenance. The arrival of Progress 52 on 27 July brought some novelty, which is always welcome. Just six hours after its launch, the vehicle docked automatically with the International Space Station, bringing much needed supplies for both the crew and the Station. Progress is the space transport vehicle for Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. It weighs around 7 tonnes. As usual, we’ve been busy with lots of experiments, some of which are new for me. For the first time since I arrived on...