Status Report

Expedition Five Letters Home #6 – By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

By SpaceRef Editor
August 15, 2002
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Dear Friends,

Typically the
station flies in the attitude in which the “bottom” (nadir)
portion of the station is facing the Earth all the time. Because
of the angle to the sun relative to the orbit that we are in, we
sometimes have to switch to a different attitude called XPOP, in
order to optimize our attitude relative to the sun (so that we can
generate the necessary power for the station with minimal motion
requirements for the solar arrays). Flying in this attitude has
the advantage (for me) that we get to see the horizon more often.
One of the really striking things that I had noticed when I first
saw the Earth’s horizon, is that the atmosphere that protects the
Earth is so small compared to the relative size of the Earth. As
you might expect, the appearance of the horizon can vary dramatically,
depending on the lighting (sunrise/sunset or just daytime). As the
sun rises (approaches us from behind the Earth), initially, only
a thin, very bright band of light is visible. A deep royal blue
line appears first, followed by the addition of oranges and reds.
The rays of light seem to wrap fingers of light around the planet,
and reflect from the upper atmosphere downward onto Earth, all within
the thin layer of the atmosphere.

One evening,
I had dimmed the lights inside the module so that I could better
watch the Earth/stars. I watched the sun set as we moved into the
shadow of the Earth. I was pleasantly surprised a few min later
to see a half-moon rise into view from behind the Earth. As the
stars started popping into view, I was surprised again, as I saw
a satellite pass by above us, looking so much like one of the other
stars, but moving across the field of “constant” stars.
I had never thought about the fact that I could, as one of those
satellites, actually see another! And then I saw a secondÖamazing.

This week the
ground was ready to test one of the malfunctioning components that
I had replaced earlier, called the Microconstituents Analyzer (MCA).
The MCA uses a mass spectrometer to quantitate the major components
in the air and requires a vacuum. The ground needed me to temporarily
connect up a vacuum jumper hose, fondly (or not) referred to as
“the Anaconda.” The trainers on the ground had mentioned
this hose to me, but I had never seen a flight version or even photos
of it, so when I found it hidden behind 4 racks, I understood why
it received the name. The metal mesh hose has a diameter of about
2.5 inches, and is about 3 meters longÖthe size of a LARGE
python. The metal mesh makes the hose hard to control, while working
with one end the other is flailing. I was trying to connect it by
myself unsuccessfully, so I got Valery to help. He decided we needed
to start taking a rack apart in order to get enough access to place
the jumper hose and I, thinking of an easier route, wanted to use
my handy pocketknife to cut a hole through the fabric base of the
rack. Before implementing either of these options, I decided to
call the ground and asked them if anyone had actually ever made
this connection at this particular rack before. They said yes, Jim
Voss had done it during Expedition 2Öbut by the way, you will
probably need to float the rack out of its pivot pins. If the ground
controllers knew how close I was to getting out my pocketknife,
they would have mentioned this earlier!

Saturday is
typically house-cleaning day, which includes vacuuming/gray-taping
lint/debris from ventilation ducts, cleaning handrails, and cleaning
all the spots on the wall/ceiling/floor from drops that escaped
from food/drink bags. This is usually when I find items that floated
away from me or someone else (they usually, eventually, get sucked
up to the ventilation ducts). I haven’t done a study yet to see
what the half-life of floating to a vent isÖbut I suppose I
might have time if our mission gets extended long enough!

Last Saturday
was special in that I gave the guys haircuts. As you might imagine,
the lack of gravity makes this a bit more challenging, since we
don’t really want to breathe all that hair or get it in our eyes.
So the solution is that the victim held the vacuum cleaner hose
near his head, while I cut his hair. Valery has been saying for
2 weeks now that one of us had to cut his hair. I told him I cut
hair, although with electric clippers, but he let me cut his anyway.
Valery’s hair turned out reasonably, so Sergey (who I think was
waiting to see the outcome) volunteered to have his cut as well.
After I got started cutting Sergey’s hair, he asked how many times
I had cut hair with scissors beforeÖI told him twice. He looked
a little concerned, but it was too late, I had already cut one side.

One of the
experiments I conducted this week was a micro-encapsulation experiment.
This experiment only requires sample, disk change-out, and tape
change-outs, but it is an interesting investigation. The objective
is to use the lack of gravity to better understand how best to encapsulate
anti-tumor drugs, photodynamic therapy drugs and DNA. Only 1 problem,
one of the sample canisters didn’t seem to fit the hardware. There
were no bent pins or alignment guides, so after completing all the
other samples, they had me try again, suggesting that I apply “significant”
force. Brute force (one of my finer qualities) worked and we were
able to get the last sample run as well!

We have been
doing some trouble-shooting on the SUBSA experiment (solidification
using a baffle basically it’s our superconductor crystal experiment).
This experiment is supposed to heat up the sample chamber to 850
degrees. After making the metal molten we inject the “dopant”
that forms the superconductor crystal and use directional solidification
to see how big we can make the crystal. Only problem is that the
software is not letting us get up to temperature. The folks on the
ground are trying to modify the software and we will do a temperature
test next week to see if we can really get it hot enough. Hard to
imagine that we are trying to make metal molten inside the station!

On the lighter
side of “experiments”Öwe conducted a payload this
week experimenting with toys. Portions of our videotape from this
heavy-duty astronaut work, will be incorporated into videos explaining
the effects of gravity, motion, inertia, centripetal forces, and
okay, maybe a little of how to have fun in space. I most enjoyed
Valery and Sergey trying to play soccer. At one point they did a
long volley of passing the ball between themselves by bouncing it
off their heads. No one ever said my guys didn’t know how to use
their heads! Later they were demonstrating hockey techniques and
Valery was being the goalie in the hatchway. To demonstrate that
he was the goalie, he put his hand over his face, with his fingers
separated so that he could see as Sergey shot the puck at him. I
was having problems holding the camera still, I was laughing so
hard. Since we had just watched the movie “Alien” together
the previous weekend, I thought Valery looked a lot like one of
the victims of an alien attack!

This week our
treadmill started making a noise-one that didn’t sound particularly
healthy. The treadmill is a key part of our exercise routine, we
use it to help maintain our bone density and for cardiovascular
fitness (and increase our tolerance to pain in general). Since I’m
not particularly good at imitating noises, I was trying to describe
the soundÖ “like running a stick over a picket fence,
but not always staying the same distance from the fence as you walk
along it,” increasing frequency with increasing speed, etc.
Didn’t know how difficult it would be to convey this type of information
until I had to try it–several times.

Another communication
problem that I probably have not heard the last of, came up this
week. I noticed that the display on one of the ARTIC freezers was
reading various symbols/nonsense everywhere there should have been
a number. I called down and described the symbols and summed up
by saying “in essence, everywhere there should be a number,
it’s gobble-dy-gook.” The Huntsville payload version of our
CAPCOM, replied, “copy, gobble-dy-gook.” I’m sure they
got a chuckle out of that one, as I was thinking I should have come
up with a better descriptive term!

called up this week to tell us we had reached the 50-day mark in
our mission. Can you believe I have been in space for 50 days?!?
I am still amazed!


P.S. We have
soybean pods on our plants!

SpaceRef staff editor.