Status Report

Expedition Five Letters Home #2 – By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

By SpaceRef Editor
August 15, 2002
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Hey Guys,

The big events
for this week were that the Progress vehicle that arrived during
Expedition 4 departed and we got a new one. These vehicles provide
us with oxygen, water, fuel, food and other supplies. After we unload
one over a period of a few months, we use it as the ship to haul
away our trash, since it burns up as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere.
Docking and undocking to/from the station is a ground-controlled
process conducted by the Mission Control in Moscow, but Valery and
Sergey monitored this process very carefullyÖsince we do not
want a collision with the station.

My job during
this event was to make sure that the Russian video format was converted
to the US format so that we could send this info to the ground controllers
in Russia using our KU assets and to be Valery’s “go-for.”
Since we set up and tested the video the day before the new Progress
arrived, I didn’t have too much to doÖso I got to watch out
the window quite a bit.

Even with the
info from the ground about where to look, it was difficult to pick
out the vehicle as it approached. We knew the times of thruster
firings, so I was watching at this time to see if I could spot the
vehicle. We were in the shadow of the Earth (night side), and I
could see the occasional yellow-white flashes of our maneuvering
thrusters as they maintained our attitude for the approaching vehicle,
so I expected I would see the thruster firings of the Progress as
well. What I saw at the designated time and approximately where
I thought I should be looking was not the one flash I was expecting,
but multiple scattered over a large area. It took me a moment to
realize what I was seeing. It was lightning from a huge thunderstorm
on the ground. So even though I didn’t spot the approaching Progress
at this point, I got to enjoy the fireworks display of my first
thunderstorm with a view from above.

A few minutes
later, on the sunny side of the Earth, we were able to spot the
Progress as it approached. As corny as it may sound, my chest felt
constricted and tears welled in my eyes upon seeing another space
vehicle approaching ours. On the shuttle as we approached the station,
I had a bird’s-eye view as I perched on the commander’s seat looking
out the overhead window, taking radar range measurements between
us and the station. And I experienced these same emotions. Maybe
part of these feelings come from the pride in seeing what has been
accomplished. But some of these feelings I would liken to the thrill
of formation flying, and being able to see another aircraft close-up.
Maybe seeing another spacecraft in close proximity makes me feel
a little more of the reality of where I am and what I’m doingÖand
how truly special it really is.

Some of the
first items unpacked were the cards, notes, photos, books and fresh,
edible goodies sent by our family and friends. The only disadvantage
to having fresh tomatoes, apples, oranges and lemons, is that we
have to eat it all before it spoils. Valery is stowing them in the
Soyuz because it’s cooler, but I’ve eaten 2 tomatoes and at least
one apple for lunch and dinner the last two days. It seems like
there is still a lot left! I showed Valery and Sergey an American
(?) delicacyÖpeanut butter on apple slices, which went over

We also had
to do some trouble-shooting this week on the ZCG (Zeolite Crystal
Growth Furnace) experiment hardware. Only the primary CPU came up
after installation of the new hard drives, but when we reverted
back to the old hard drives the same problem came up. But even without
the redundancy, we ended up heating the first set of samples to
175 C. My fingers are crossed that we get all the data.

The Microgravity
Sciences Glovebox (MSG) is a large facility rack, about 1 m across
and 2.3 m tall. It has a special work area that is contained so
that we can do materials science within. Many of the substances
that we would normally do this type of research on would be too
toxic to have in the confined environment of the stationÖit’s
not like we can open a window if we spill something, so this facility
provides us with the capability to do more interesting materials
research. I had arranged to send down video while I was doing the
initial stages of the checkout on this rack. I, thinking I was being
very clever, told the ground I was “unveiling” the MSG
as I ceremoniously pulled off the cover enclosing the containment
area of the rack. A bit later, I was struggling to unscrew the launch
bolts, which were at a pretty high torque and me without the proper
hex tool with a long enough extension, and I had to put my toes
between various handrails in order to hold myself in position. Evidently,
it was an amusing sight. The ground team called up that they were
thinking of using this video as a trailer for a new film release
for “Spiderwoman.”

Speaking of
toes, I forgot to tell you about the new callus I’m getting. In
order to hold myself in position to work on most any task, I have
to put my feet underneath a handrail or in a foot-loop. After about
1.5 weeks of being in space, the tops of my feet were incredibly
sore. Now I’ve noticed that I’m getting a callus on the top of my
feet! The part I have yet to experience is losing the callus from
the bottom of my feetÖI’ve heard descriptions, and it sounds
like a disgusting process!

More later,


SpaceRef staff editor.