Status Report

Expedition Five Letters Home #9 – By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

By SpaceRef Editor
September 6, 2002
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Hey Guys,

Two HUGE acts
of courage were conducted on the station last week. Preflight I
had arranged with Sandy Magnus, member of the 9A crew and friend,
to cut my hair when she arrived. That was supposed to be about now.
So, the first act of courage was for me to decide to ask Valery
if he would cut my hair. The second act of courage was that he agreed.
He did a pretty good job, especially considering the price! He said
he was very nervous the whole time and said it was probably bad
for his heart to cut a woman’s hair!

One of the
physiological aspects of flying in space is that we are exposed
to a higher radiation dose than folks on the ground. Luckily for
us, the magnetosphere that protects the Earth from this radiation
also has some beneficial effects for us too at just over 200 miles
above the Earth, but we still monitor exposure during the mission.
We have various types of radiation devices on board to monitor our
doses and the rate of accumulation, but there is one physical indicator
that is interesting. With my eyes closed, in a darkened sleep station,
before I have a chance to fall asleep, I will occasionally see streaks
of light flash across my eye(s). It looks like a meteor entering
Earth’s atmosphere, only it’s under my eyelids. These flashes are
high-energy particles that I’m seeing.

I decided we
needed to do a special experiment, and I called Huntsville to ask
if we could do a thermal “test” on the inactive refrigerator/freezer,
requesting 4 degrees C. They came back the following day and said
that would be ok, since we were planning to move the ZCG furnace
samples into the refrigerator anyway. Valery had told me before
flight that Shannon Lucid had prepared a gelatin dessert for them
occasionally when they were on orbit together on the Mir. So I had
pre-arranged to have a gelatin mix as well. The folks on the ground
had added gelatin mix to the bags instead of a dried drink concentrate.
After adding hot water and chilling in our thermal “test,”
we got to enjoy gelatin for dessert. Very cool and refreshing didn’t
know any gelatin dessert could taste that good.

On the ground
there is a group that provides psychological support to us before,
during and after the mission. They are the ones that arrange for
us to get news, photos, movies etc. We knew that Sergey would be
having a birthday on orbit, so they arranged to send up “happy
birthday” banners, kazoos, a singing candle, party hats and
cupcakes on the Progress vehicle that arrived in June. I had stashed
all of this away, and got it out to make Sergey’s birthday on orbit
unusual, if not special. I placed one of the banners on the table
in the middle of the night, so he would see it first thing in the
morning. Then just before his family conference, I decorated the
lab with more banners, and arranged for Houston MCC to call/send
video from there with all the folks gathered around the camera to
wish him a happy birthday. I made Sergey and Valery wear party hats
and everything. They tolerated me. Later we had a big dinner (yes,
we are STILL eating out of cans/bags), and afterwards a cupcake
with a singing candle. I think Sergey thought the candle was the
coolest part!

You know the
saying about everyone putting his or her pants on one leg at time it
doesn’t apply here! In space it’s quite easy to put your pants on
both legs at a time. One of the questions that folks ask about is
our clothing and whether or not we are able to wash/dry our clothes.
Typically we wear our clothes for 2 or 3 days, then move them into
the workout category and use them until we can’t stand the smell.
Then, after drying them out (the condensate system collects the
water from the air, so we can reuse it), we put them in the Progress.
They will eventually be used as packing material. Since the Progress
will burn upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the only reason
we care about packing is that the center of gravity of the vehicle
needs to be known and constant for accurate undocking/maneuvering,
so we actually will get packing instructions of where different
items (those with the most mass) should be positioned and use the
clothing and other trash items to hold everything in place for undocking
and reentry. You can see why Progress packing is not one of the
sweetest smelling of the jobs!

In order to
have optimal communication and telemetry data downlink during the
EVAs, we had to shift our sleep patterns. Normally we have a wake
up time of 6 am GMT, but for the first EVAs we had to wake up at
about midnight. My body adjusted reasonably well, but for the second
EVA we were waking up at about 10 pm. Although my body seemed to
shift to this time reasonably well, it was interesting to me that
I had such a difficult time knowing what day it was Because
we were working during the transition from one day to the next,
I never knew when I should do the standard activities for a given
day (e.g., calling down CO2 concentrations on Mon and Thur, power
cycling the file server on Wed and Sat, or power cycling the command
and control laptops on Sat, etc.). We will be doing a lot more sleep
shifting in the future, with the arrivals of the Progress, Soyuz
and shuttle flights. I hope we don’t have to transition the changing
of the days like we did for the second EVA!

Looking out
the window at night (in the shadow of the Earth) can be just as
interesting as looking out during the day. We were flying back in
LVLH attitude, which means that the window in the lab is looking
directly at the Earth all the time. I’ve mentioned before how beautiful
it is to watch from above as the lightning dances among the clouds.
It’s also a treat to see the city lights. It looks to me like stars
were splattered on the ground in patches, with the highways dissecting
and crisscrossing within. And the city lights along the shorelines
draw an intricate pattern, as the coast weaves and meanders. My
eyes love tracing the dramatic border between the blackness of the
water and the aesthetic pattern defined by the lights. At one point
I saw what appeared to be a diffused light moving along the ground
in a straight line, appearing as it moved across rivers and other
bodies of water. It wasn’t until the light crossed a large enough
body of water that I was able to determine that it was the reflection
of moonlight on the water, following us on our path!

I hope all
is well with you,


SpaceRef staff editor.