Charlotte Beskow sends an update on one of the last steps for ATV-5… loading it with rubbish.

Loading ATV-5 cargo in 2014. Credits: ESA

Loading ATV-5 cargo on Earth in 2014. Credits: ESA

The mission is going well and the past few weeks in December and January have been more or less “normal” work. I write “normal” in quotations because it depends entirely on the activity. The cargo people for example have had their hands more than full.

The end of the ATV-5 mission is fast approaching and one of our tasks is to take out the garbage. One Earth garbage is usually collected at least once a week. In space things are not quite so simple. ATV-5 has been attached to the International Space Station since 12 August and the astronauts have gradually removed its cargo and started loading it with trash.

The Space Station is a working laboratory and waste accumulates so the challenge for the cargo teams is to load as much waste as possible into ATV while still respecting the undocking and reentry constraints in terms of mass, centre of mass and so on.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti loading brine on ATV-5 , December 2014. Credits: ESA/NASA

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti loading brine on ATV-5 in space, December 2014. Credits: ESA/NASA

The three water tanks have been emptied and one of them filled with liquid waste. But like anyone packing a suitcase for a long trip knows, there are always a couple more items to put in… hmm, can this be squeezed in here? This item can fit here! We really must get rid of this bag… What about this one?…This smells a bit.. let’s move that one quickly…

Before you get the wrong impression, be assured that nothing is loaded in a haphazard manner, but keeping track of everything that goes in and out is a demanding task involving scores of people in Houston, Toulouse, Italy, Russia and, of course, aboard the Space Station itself. This loading task will no doubt continue right up until hatch closure.

Undocking is planned 14 February (two weeks from now) and reentry is 27 February (4 weeks from now), and a sense of urgency has begun to creep into the daily routine. The end of ATV-5 is fast approaching and, like it or not, this means the end of the entire ATV programme. Some of us have been working on this for 20 years and ATV has occupied a large part, not only of our daily lives, but also those of our families.

Luckily we are now so busy with the final undocking and reentry preparations that we have little time to think of “what next?”.

Time flies when you are having fun…