Status Report

André Kuipers’ diary – Part 13: Online chat, medical exam and farewell to my daughters

By SpaceRef Editor
March 21, 2004
Filed under , , ,
André Kuipers’ diary – Part 13: Online chat, medical exam and farewell to my daughters

4 – 10 March

During my stay in space, I will make an educational video about
the physiological aspects of space travel. This will concern the effect of
the weightless environment on the human body. My colleagues, Frank De Winne
and Pedro Duque, have made similar videos; theirs were about the behaviour
of liquids in space and Newton’s laws of physics.

It is up to me to show that more blood flows to your head in space, and that
your neck gets wider but your legs get thinner. And that in space it is
difficult to get your bearings with your eyes closed. This week, I ran
through all the procedures and practised using the camera. When my video is
ready it will be combined with the previous two to make an educational film
for secondary school students.

Another training exercise was about the landing procedure. It was the first
time that we had rehearsed it together as a full crew, fully kitted out in
spacesuits. We went through the whole procedure twice. The first time, I sat
in the left-hand seat that is reserved for the flight engineer. Then Michael
Fincke took my place. After all, he will be staying in the Space Station
when I return, and he also has to be able to fly back in the role of flight
engineer in an emergency.
There was a break between the two practice sessions, which gave us the
chance to practice for one of the traditional pre-launch ceremonies. Just
like Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, we will all pee against the rear
wheel of the bus on our way to the launch platform. That is quite an art
when you are wearing a spacesuit; laughing, we took advantage of this
unscheduled opportunity to practice such a tricky manoeuvre!

Personal impressions

On Friday afternoon, I went to the ESA office in Moscow. I thought that I
was just going there for lunch with the embassy staff from various countries
of Europe. I was right about the lunch, but on arriving I was unexpectedly
asked to address the assembly and tell them about the mission and the
training. I spoke at some length about the details of the mission. In fact,
there is so much to tell that I had to take care not to rattle on for three
hours. So I mainly restricted myself to personal impressions and some
explanation about the international cooperation between Europe and Russia.
Many people have only a vague idea of what this involves.

I spent the weekend with my two daughters, Robin and Megan. This was the
last time that I would see them before the flight. Even at the launch from
the Baikonur cosmodrome, I will probably not be able to pick them out in the
crowd. We did all sorts of things together. I went horse riding with them,
something that they really enjoy doing. We watched the last episode of Lord
of the Rings at the cinema, visited an open air museum and relaxed at a
sub-tropical swimming pool. We talked a bit about the flight, but not very
much. After all, they already know all about it.

Radio ham

Back at Star City, we posed for the official crew photos. These were taken
at a special studio, with the national flags in the background. Two
individual photos were taken of me, one of them with the Dutch flag and the
other with the ESA flag. I just had time to stick on the emblems with the
DELTA logo and our Soyuz TMA-4 crew logo; these had only just arrived from
the Netherlands.

After that, I continued training for the amateur radio session. On board the
Space Station, I will speak as a radio ‘ham’ with pupils and students in the
Netherlands. We went through all the procedures. By way of practice, during
a session in the Space Station simulator, I established real radio contact
with the trainers and with two of my Dutch friends who are visiting Star
City this week. One of them, Chris van den Berg, is very knowledgeable about
space communications and has been listening to all the radio traffic between
the ground and Russian spaceships for decades.

Internet chat

I was also in contact with Dutch children on Tuesday, but this time via the
Internet during a chat session. Many children had assembled in various
libraries throughout the Netherlands in order to ask me questions via the
Internet. I was completely overwhelmed. In less than an hour, thousands of
questions were fired at me. It was really fun, trying to answer as many of
them as possible and as fast as I could.

There were some great questions among them. For example, whether I can see
stars and planets from the Space Station (yes, and stars do not twinkle
because there is no atmosphere). There were the inevitable questions about
how I go to the toilet (an airflow ensures that everything ends up in the
disposal system) and sleep (well buckled-in). But there were also questions
about how fast you actually fly through space (28,000 kilometres per hour)
and what you have to do if you have used up all your oxygen (make some more
from water using electricity). It was a good session, even though I was
unfortunately unable to answer all the questions. When I am back from space,
we will do it again.

Medical examination

The next day, I was subjected to a medical examination. This one was very
important, being so close to the flight. The Russian doctors really put me
through the mill, examining me from top to toe. There was an optician, an
ENT specialist, a surgeon, an internist and a neurologist. Much of what they
did was similar: prodding, poking and measuring.

It all took about three or four hours. Of course, there was an
electrocardiogram and I had to give a urine sample and numerous blood
samples; scans were made of just about every organ in my body.

Medical examinations always make you feel a bit tense. You know that
astronauts can fail such examinations just before they are due to go on
their mission. This recently happened to my fellow crewmate, Bill McArthur.
Fortunately, he can still look forward to another flight in the future, but
it is a pretty drastic event if you are not allowed to go into space after
so much preparation. In my case, everything will presumably go well. I feel
well. Hopefully, I will not hear anything more about the examination. No
reaction means that there is nothing wrong, and so ready for takeoff!

SpaceRef staff editor.