Status Report

Expedition Five Letters Home #10 – By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

By SpaceRef Editor
September 20, 2002
Filed under , ,

Dear Friends,

One of the
big events last week was to see if we still fit into our Sokel suits
and into the custom-made seat liners of the Soyuz capsule. In space
we get taller as a result of the fluid redistribution and the lack
of gravity effects on the spinal column. All those years of basketball
and wanting to be taller too bad my height will return to normal
shortly after landing. I think there is also some concern that we
would gain too much weight, but I guess those folks who are concerned
haven’t eaten out of cans and just-add-water bags for several months!
None of us had any problems fitting into our suits. At Gagarin Cosmonaut
Training Center in Star City, we train in a Soyuz capsule mockup.
I told the guys that I was sure that the capsule in Star City was
larger than the real thing. Of course this one has all the survival
gear (clothing, food, water), in case we landed and were not immediately
picked up, crammed into the capsule too. Just to get inside the
capsule with the suit on is a challenge. The hatch opens to the
interior of the capsule, and tends to further crowd an already tight
situation. In order for me to slide to the right to get into my
seat, I had to close the hatch to make enough clearance. Then I
crammed my backside into the custom-made seat, pulling my knees
up almost to my chest. At that time I was thinking it would be better
if I was shorter a lot shorter and smaller too. I don’t know
how the guys manage! If you imagined 3 people in the front seat
of a sub-compact car, it would be roomy by comparison to fitting
into the Soyuz.

One of the
big challenges on board the station is keeping track of where everything
is located. We have an inventory management system (IMS) that we
can access to help us find items, by part number, barcode, or name.
Initially, I think we were all surprised by the fact that you could
actually find a lot of items using IMS. However, the system is only
as good as the data it has so we still occasionally lose items.
Last week we were doing a smoke detector “remove and replace”
in one of the racks. At one point in order to rotate the rack to
access the smoke detector, a special tool was recommended. The tool
was not found in the expected location. So the ground control team
was calling up suggested locations where the tool might be stowed,
and in addition, I was looking in all the places I thought would
be logical places to stow this infrequently used tool. After a couple
of hours of this “scavenger hunt” and trying to come up
with alternative ways to access the bolt without much luck, the
ground suggested another place for me to look. I had already looked
in the recommended location, but their attention seemed to focus
on one rack, so I went through the entire rack and finally came
out victorious. You can bet I told them EXACTLY where I put the
tool when I finished!

On the payloads
front, a couple of weeks ago, one of the samples in the microgravity
sciences glovebox was damaged when it was heated to 835 degrees.
After a cleanup procedure, we were back in business this week and
running more superconductor samples. After we finished the last
of these samples, I changed out the experiment inside the glovebox
for a different experiment. This involved pulling out experiment
specific hardware for the previous experiment and putting in a new
thermal chamber with all the associated connections. I wore goggles
and a mask with the air circulation on inside the chamber during
this process to change the experiments. Although the circulation
was on, I was opening the glove ports to access the work volume.
We happened to have KU, so the ground team was watching during this
process. Typically I would have all the glove ports (4 of them,
2 large ones on each side and 2 on the front) off and using every
advantage to access the hardware and connections from different
angles. The ground called and reminded me that I could only open
1 glove port at a time when the air circulation was on good
thing I had a mask on so they couldn’t see the expression on my
face. Needless to say, the procedure took twice as long to complete
as expected!

I also got
to photograph the soybeans again this week. Since they are being
grown in a completely enclosed environment, I have to disconnect
the thermal loops and power and data cables and then remove the
container from the rack. The beans looked mature and the leaves
are turning brown. Not a huge crop, but I counted 17 pods on our
6 plants. The ground team, after seeing the photos, decided it’s
time to start drying the seeds, so this week I will be removing
moisture from the system to aid the process along.

Since most
of our windows are located on the nadir side of the station, it
is difficult to see much of the ISS from them. However, the small
windows in the Soyuz and the docking compartment offer glimpses
of some of the structure. One of the most striking things to me
about our structure is the solar arrays. We have US solar arrays
in a temporary position, mounted on the zenith (upper side) of the
station on trusses called Z1 and P6. This particular set of solar
arrays will eventually be placed (using the robotic arm) on the
end of the truss that we are currently constructing. So even though
we cannot view the Z1 and P6 trusses that hold these solar arrays,
the arrays themselves are so large (I don’t remember exactly, but
I think they are each about 140 feet long), that it is possible
to see them from the docking compartment. The arrays are reddish-gold
when the sun lights them, and during sunrises or sunsets the edges
of the arrays look like glowing coals in a fire. The Russian solar
arrays are much smaller and mounted directly to the service module
and FGB. In contrast these arrays are white in the sun, but during
darkness, they have an opalescent quality of blues and greens.

Valery and
I conducted some robotic arm operations this week. The ground had
noticed some FOD (foreign object debris) on the hatch seal of the
MPLM (multi-purpose logistic module) that was returned to Earth
with UF-2 (the shuttle flight I launched on) and wanted to check
out the hatch interface area on the station to see if we could see
any FOD here. In order to look at this interface we had to properly
position the arm, and using the camera on the tip of the arm, perform
a fly-around of the interface. The hatch interface is protected
by four “petals” (they open like a flower), which we commanded
open from our computer. As we flew around we noticed a number of
sites where debris was apparent, so it was a good call to check
this out. Valery and I, of course, volunteered to go outside (perform
a spacewalk) to clean it up!

Yesterday we
celebrated 100 days on orbit! We arranged, with some extremely helpful
folks on the ground, for a party in Houston, as well as food for
the folks that had to work in Mission Control in Houston, Huntsville
and Moscow. We had pre-recorded a video message to all the folks,
and it was played on the TV at the party. Later we made phone calls
to the folks in Star City and Houston, just to chat with our friends
during the celebration. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Up here we celebrated too, although we had a lot less material to
work with. I decided that we would have hamburgers. We have packaged
rolls and cheese spread (irradiated) which I warmed up, and dehydrated
hamburger—-just add hot water. A little catsup and mustard, and
you sort of have a hamburger. I was telling Mom about this, and
she said that she didn’t think rehydrated hamburger sounded too
appealing. It could be that I’ve been eating out of cans and just-add-water
bags long enough that this seemed out of the ordinary and almost

There is some
good news on the food front though. I was in search of a new container
of drinks this morning and came across my second (and last) bonus
food container. The food is bungeed on the floor of the FGB, stacked
about 2.5 feet high. Over the course of 100 days we have eaten our
way through about half of the FGB. So, in spite of the fact that
I searched for this food container earlier, finding one particular
box was not a simple task. But luck was with me today. We share
all the food within all the general containers, but the food in
our bonus containers consists of special items that we asked for
above and beyond the general stuff. Guess what I found. SALSA!!!!
I’m so pleased that I am already trying to figure out what I’ll
have for supper to go with my salsa!

Hope all is
well with you on the Earth below,


SpaceRef staff editor.