SpaceRef

SpaceRef


Expedition Five Letters Home #9 - By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Friday, September 6, 2002

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,

Peg

// end //

More status reports and news releases or top stories.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

SpaceRef Newsletter