Status Report

Expedition Five Letters Home #8 – By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

By SpaceRef Editor
August 27, 2002
Filed under , ,

Thought I would
give you an update on how the EVA went. Thanks so much for all your
words of support and congratulations. I thought I would write about
the many WAY COOL aspects of the experience.

As we were
conducting the desaturation procedure (procedure to remove as much
nitrogen from the body as possible to minimize the chance of us
getting the bends) and depress, I noticed that being inside the
docking compartment and inside the suit seemed much easier than
it had been during training in the water. In the water it takes
a lot of effort and force to reposition my body, since I have to
force the suit through the resistance of the water. The docking
compartment seems barely large enough to hold the two of us in water,
but seemed roomy in space. However, once outside the hatch with
no constraints around me, I found that even the tiniest of forces
could send me off in a direction I hadn’t really planned on. This
was more apparent than just the “normal” day-to-day logistics
of floating/working in space, since the several hundred pounds of
additional mass provided by the spacesuit, required an adjustment
to my “gain” on how much force to use. I have noticed
this just in floating through the station, carrying a contingency
water container with 20 kg of water between my legs. The additional
mass, the change in the location of my center of gravity, can all
conspire to result in some serious bruises if not compensated for and
that is with only 20 kg! The spacesuit mass required that I considerably
readjust how much force was required to start and stop a motion.

My first look,
as I poked my head out the hatch, was amazing! I previously compared
the view of being in space to having lived in semidarkness for several
years and having someone turn on the lights. Well, the view from
my helmet, continuing the same analogy, would be like going outside
on a sunny, clear day after having lived in semidarkness for years!
If it gets better than this, I’m not sure my mind would be able
to comprehend it!

Some crew members
have commented on the fact that during EVA they experienced a sensation
of falling when seeing the Earth moving by so quickly below them.
So I was advised that if I experienced this I should concentrate
on my work close at hand in order to minimize the effects. What
struck me instead was the sensation of flying. Flying, but not like
in a plane just me, flying over the Earth. As part of our astronaut
training we get a lot of experience flying in the NASA T-38 as part
of our readiness training for flight. It’s very special to be one
of two people in such a small aircraft, traveling so fast. But the
experience of flying during the EVA was more like the one you have
in your dreams when you fly from place to place without the aid
of any craft, only the view from space was much better than anything
I had ever dreamed of! One of the astronauts had told me an analogy
that if you compared flying in a spacecraft to flying in an airplane
over the Grand Canyon, being EVA would be like flying through the
Grand Canyon as a bird. I think that fits really well. I definitely
felt as though I had wings! The Russian spacesuit is called the
“Orlan” which means eagle and I can say now that
I think it is a very appropriate name.

Our first task
was for me to go to the end of the fully retracted Strella and attach
myself and prepare for the “ride.” Strella (means arrow
in Russian) is the name of the 2 mechanical arms, which are situated
on opposite sides of the docking compartment to allow access to
most of the Russian segment. It requires people-power for motion.
Valery had the daunting task of cranking the arm, with me hanging
off the end, to the first work-site on the pressurized mating adapter
that joins the US and Russian segments. This was the location where
Franklin and Pepe from the UF2 crew had stowed a bundle of 6 micrometeoroid
shields that we would be installing. Valery positioned me such that
I was moving parallel to the long axes of the station, but as he
tried to extend the arm, there was a problem. It would not extend.
I had noticed that the configuration of the tethers between the
sections of the arm was different than what we had trained with,
but had just assumed it was the “real” configuration,
as opposed to the “training” configuration. After Valery
said he couldn’t extend the arm, I looked again and noticed a cord
that appeared to be woven through all the tethers was keeping them
from extending. I had to manually unthread the cord from the tethers
before Valery was able to extend the arm. The reason I comment on
this is that although this task would seem trivial in bare hands,
actually having the fine motor control at the high suit pressure
makes even tasks as simple as this challenging.

Once Valery
had extended the arm to the appropriate length, the sun was setting
behind me, making it extremely difficult for him to see anything,
even through the specially coated sun visor. I gave him directions
on how to get between the solar arrays and the antennae on the FGB.
Once I became close enough to grab a handrail, I secured the Strella
to the handrail with a tether. I was surprised by how quickly things
got really dark after the sun was no longer reaching us, in spite
of the fact that I had turned on my helmet lights. Of course, when
I remembered to raise my sun visor (what an idiot), there was no
problem seeing the local work area!

After Valery
and I had installed the shields onto the end of the Strella, he
moved back to the “operators’ post” to begin our maneuver
to the next work site. Although it was dark at this time, the lighting
from the external node light allowed us to see the entire length
of the arm and the surrounding structure. Since the arm was very
close to the FGB solar arrays and an antenna, the motion as we moved
away from structure was very critical. I had released the tether
from the handrail, and as the arm started motion, I called “good
motion, we are moving away from structure ” so that Valery
would know he was going in the correct direction. Both of us have
trained as operators of the Canada2 (Big Arm) robotic arm that we
have used from the U.S. segment, so we ended up using much of the
same terminology to discuss the motion and direction of this mechanical
(Valery-powered) arm.

The next maneuver
was for Valery to yaw me 180 degrees to the opposite end of the
Russian segment. This maneuver, technically referred to as the YEEHAW
maneuver (at least by me anyway), was unfortunately, mostly during
darkness. Even so, with the node lighting, camera lighting from
the Big Arm, stray lighting from the few windows on the structure,
and the opalescent glitter of the solar arrays, it was impressive
to see the ISS structure. Having worked on life-sized components
of each of the modules and structures that make up the station (sometimes,
individually, or piece parts together), looking from this vantage
point gave me a sense of how big the station really is. It truly
is an engineering feat! About halfway through the maneuver, I had
repositioned my body for the next work site and I saw the sun begin
to rise from behind the Earth. It started off as only a thin royal
blue curvilinear line. As the line thickened, the colors became
richer and mixed with burning reds and oranges. Well before the
Earth below was lit, the station began its own sunrise of color,
sepia-colored, then golden, followed by brilliant whites as the
rays from the sun touched us at this altitude, several minutes before
lighting the Earth below. As Valery moved me into the final position
at the worksite, the view was impressive, with an unexplainable
depth of emotion, as the sunrise backlit him and the station.

The major task
of our EVA was the installation of 6 micrometeoroid shields. They
varied slightly in size and shape, but for the most part were about
a meter long by 1/3 of a meter wide. They were specifically designed
to fit certain locations along the surface of the service module,
attaching to the handrails by 2 bolts each. The shields were connected
together as a single bundle by Russian wire ties. My dad is always
saying you can fix just about anything with a little number 2 wire
and some pliers, and that was pretty much how these shields were
connected together, with wire ties on each corner and between each
of the shields. Collecting all these wire ties proved to be a bit
challenging. We don’t want to add to any orbital debris (we were
installing shields to protect the station from debris!), so it is
important that everything we move from place to place be tethered,
including wire ties. Tethers are lifesavers, but if you are not
always careful with them, they can cost you a lot of time if they
get tangled up. Luckily, I had no tether problems, but the wire
ties did seem to have a mind of their own and want to grab onto
things at the most inconvenient times. I also needed to remove the
2 handrails from the shields, which were only used for transport.
Since it’s necessary to restrain your body with a hand (no foot
restraints available here), the ability to do a task with one hand
is very important, especially if it requires very much torque. In
the end, Valery and I ended up taking turns, one person holding
the wrench while the other provided the torque and motion to unscrew
the bolts of these handrails.

One of the
things I had been warned about was the communication interference
during these EVAs. Even with the warning, however, I was still quite
surprised to hear ATIS [Air Terminal Information System] instructions,
comm between airplanes and air traffic control, ham radio operators,
and even parts of telephone conversations! At one point during our
work on the micrometeoroid shields, there was an alarm from one
of these stray sources of communication. The Russian ground control
called up to make sure it wasn’t us!

All too soon
the ground was calling us to say that when we finished this task,
we should head back “home.” I couldn’t believe it was
time already to end. My dad asked me where we were over the Earth
while we worked. I’m not really good at recognizing the landmarks,
but Valery noted Greece at one point. I reminded Dad that we had
3 sunsets, so we went around the world about 3 times during the
EVA! It’s difficult even for me to comprehend that idea, but being
outside with the feeling of flight, I did gain some sense of the
speed we were traveling.

After repressurizing
the docking compartment, Valery and I crawled out of the “back-door”
of the Orlan suits. The most interesting aspect at this time was
the “smell of space.” The smell is a mixture of sharp,
smoky, burned odors that permeate the suits. After UF2 conducted
their 3 EVAs out of the joint airlock in the US segment, the smell
of space lasted for more than a week afterwards. As I reached out
to move the tools and felt the coldness, it became really apparent
to me how well the suits really do protect us from the dramatic
temperatures of the space environment (+270 degrees C to -270 degrees

This whole
experience seems somewhat like a dream. I can’t believe that I was
lucky enough to be a participant. The phrase, “it doesn’t get
better than this,” seems very appropriate.


SpaceRef staff editor.