Training for ISS – Part 2

Learning about the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) from Olivier

Learning about the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) from Olivier (Credit: ESA/Grothues)

I have been a bit absent from this blog in the last couple of months: my apologies for that. Believe it or not, I was given a pretty long break from formal ISS training – although I have kept my head in the books! It’s been a busy time nevertheless: I’ve taken care of some personal matters, like a move, and I have worked my way through piles of documents, unanswered correspondence and all kinds of little and big open actions that had accumulated in over a year and a half of almost constant travel around the world for training. So I’m ready to start off with a clear mind, a clean inbox and a decluttered hard disc into the next year and a half of almost constant travel that will lead me to the ultimate voyage to the ISS in December 2014.

But hey, wait a moment. Aren’t astronauts preparing for ISS supposed to be fully immersed in training for the 2.5 years prior to their flight (or somewhat less, if they’re veterans)? How is it possible – you might wonder – that the schedulers gave me such a long break? The trick is that I got a bit of a head start. In summer 2011 I was assigned to the Reserve Astronaut training (thank you ESA!). That’s a role peculiar to the smaller ISS partners and it entails receiving about a year worth of ISS training, so that the reserve astronaut would be able to get a late start into an ISS training flow to replace a colleague from the same space agency that had to be pulled out of a crew no later than, say, a year and a half prior to launch. That’s very different from the normal backup system in the ISS crew rotation, which is called “single flow to launch” and which I can explain another time, if you’re curious.

Learning about the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL) from Laura (Credit: ESA)

Learning about the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL) from Laura (Credit: ESA/Grothues)

As part of the reserve astronaut preparation I have completed the training on ISS systems, including some emergency simulations and I’ve acquired my certifications in EVA (also see this blog) and in robotics. In Star City I have completed the classes on the Soyuz system as a left-seat flight engineer, a pretty extensive addition to the regular reserve astronaut flow, that would normally only entail the less comprehensive training for the right-seat crewmember. And of course the Star City winter also offered me and Thomas the chance of practicing our survival skills.

As nice as it has been for me to start training about a year before getting a flight assignment last summer, this has made me a somewhat unusual case for our expedition schedulers, who sure prefer to have a “synched-up” crew. So, here’s where my lightly-loaded winter has come from. Synching up: done.

Learning about the European Physiology Module (EPM) from Frank (Credit: ESA)

Learning about the European Physiology Module (EPM) from Frank (Credit: ESA/Grothues)

It’s been a gradual start back into training. Last week at the European Astronaut Centre I had a quick refresher on the Columbus payloads and I retook my Columbus systems operator certification, which I had taken the first time three years ago with the rest of the Shenanigans as part of our basic training. Operator-level training teaches you how to deal with malfunctions that are serious enough to set off a warning alarm. Later this year I’ll be back in the Columbus mockup for the specialist training: that’s when you learn to take components apart and put them back together for maintenance ops. Looking forward to get my hands dirty!

This weekend was time to pack my luggage again and make my way to Star City. It’s been the familiar routine – a late night arrival at the Domodedovo airport, a quick disembarkment from the most forward seat I could get in an effort to cut the waiting time at passport control and then, after customs, the familiar affable face of Nikolay, the Star City ESA driver, meeting me. The ride to Star City has taken roughly an hour – it would take several hours in the daylight traffic. I’ve been given the key to my usual room on the ESA floor of the Profilaktorium, still with my pull-up bar in the door frame and some gym clothes I had forgotten last time. It’s the nice thing about coming back to Star City: even if it’s been a while, it feels like you never left.

Learning about the European Drawer Rack (EDR) from Elisabeth (Credit: ESA)

Learning about the European Drawer Rack (EDR) from Elisabeth (Credit: ESA/Grothues)

Soyuz sims, manual rendez-vous and docking, manual descent, Russian segment motion control system, European Robotic Arm, Orlan… all of that is on my plate for the next five weeks. It’s the first time I’m formally here for Expedition 42/43 training. The schedule that our guardian angels from the ESA office, Yuri and Anna, have left on my desk actually includes the events of crewmates Terry and Anton. I’m somehow pleased to notice this little detail and I look for any common training units.

First thing today I will have two-hour Soyuz sim briefing with Anton and on Tuesday we’ll have a four-hour session together in the Soyuz simulator. I’ve been in the sim often as a single trainee, now I’m really looking forward to working in there with my actual Soyuz commander. Somehow I have the feeling it will be fun.



  • Tony Quine says:

    Hi Sam,

    Thanks for the interesting update. I do enjoy the informal and ‘down to earth’ style of your blogs, reminding us on some of the more mundane aspects of your glamourous job, as well as the more technical and training related content.

    It must be a really exciting time, to get into the real mission specific training flow…..the next 18 months or so will fly by, I’m sure.

  • Olivier says:

    “So I’m ready to start off with a clear mind, a clean inbox and a decluttered hard disc into the next year and a half of almost constant travel that will lead me to the ultimate voyage to the ISS in December 2014.”

    I think some readers will envy even more for the first part than for the voyage to ISS! 🙂

  • Cian O'Regan says:

    Hi Samantha!

    It is nice to hear that your training is going well- we cannot wait to see you flying high above our spaceship Earth in 2014!

    If it is alright with you I would like to ask a question:

    What goals are you looking to achieve during your time on the ISS?

    Thanks for keeping us up to day on everything!


    • Samantha Cristoforetti says:

      Thanks for your question, Cian.

      Well, let’s see… find the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything? No, we know that one 🙂

      Jokes apart. There will be scientific and technical goals set for our mission. Not by me, but by people way smarter than me. So my obvious goal is to play my part as a crewmember in achieving that goal: that means basically being a good crewmember.

      On the personal side I would like:

      a) have a fun time with my crew
      b) bring the public along as good as I can, so that anybody who wants to can take part in our mission, learn about spaceflight and then go out and tell to all their friends how cool it is!

  • Hi Samantha,

    Interesting post and quite unusual for this blog! I would be interested in learning more about the reserve astronaut thing you are talking about in the first part – I am curious about it, I’ve never heard of it! Since now you’re assigned, does Thomas, or Andy, or Tim took replaced you for that?
    Also, does that mean you are meeting for the first time you 2 crewmates and never had any training with them before?

    Thank you for the post, it’s always great to read about Shenanigans in training!


    • Samantha Cristoforetti says:

      Hi Gabrielle,

      as far as I know, the reserve astronaut training is only one person per Agency. However, Thomas and Andy are in Houston right now doing pretty much the same training as I did as a reserve astronaut.

      I have had some training with Terry (and Butch) in January in Houston, but I only started training with Anton on this training session in Star City.


      • Hi Samantha,

        I’ve met Thomas and Andy last week in Houston at the Exp 34 100 days party and I was pleased to hear about their training (and the fun stories that happen in the NBL when you have 3 Shenanigans at the same time in it 😉 ). Sorry if I bother you with more questions, but does that mean you remain the reserve astronaut for ESA and that for a long time?

        Thank you for your time answering the questions!

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