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Expedition Five Letters Home #10 - By Astronaut Peggy Whitson

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Friday, September 20, 2002

Dear Friends,

One of the big events last week was to see if we still fit into our Sokel suits and into the custom-made seat liners of the Soyuz capsule. In space we get taller as a result of the fluid redistribution and the lack of gravity effects on the spinal column. All those years of basketball and wanting to be taller too bad my height will return to normal shortly after landing. I think there is also some concern that we would gain too much weight, but I guess those folks who are concerned haven't eaten out of cans and just-add-water bags for several months! None of us had any problems fitting into our suits. At Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, we train in a Soyuz capsule mockup. I told the guys that I was sure that the capsule in Star City was larger than the real thing. Of course this one has all the survival gear (clothing, food, water), in case we landed and were not immediately picked up, crammed into the capsule too. Just to get inside the capsule with the suit on is a challenge. The hatch opens to the interior of the capsule, and tends to further crowd an already tight situation. In order for me to slide to the right to get into my seat, I had to close the hatch to make enough clearance. Then I crammed my backside into the custom-made seat, pulling my knees up almost to my chest. At that time I was thinking it would be better if I was shorter a lot shorter and smaller too. I don't know how the guys manage! If you imagined 3 people in the front seat of a sub-compact car, it would be roomy by comparison to fitting into the Soyuz.

One of the big challenges on board the station is keeping track of where everything is located. We have an inventory management system (IMS) that we can access to help us find items, by part number, barcode, or name. Initially, I think we were all surprised by the fact that you could actually find a lot of items using IMS. However, the system is only as good as the data it has so we still occasionally lose items. Last week we were doing a smoke detector "remove and replace" in one of the racks. At one point in order to rotate the rack to access the smoke detector, a special tool was recommended. The tool was not found in the expected location. So the ground control team was calling up suggested locations where the tool might be stowed, and in addition, I was looking in all the places I thought would be logical places to stow this infrequently used tool. After a couple of hours of this "scavenger hunt" and trying to come up with alternative ways to access the bolt without much luck, the ground suggested another place for me to look. I had already looked in the recommended location, but their attention seemed to focus on one rack, so I went through the entire rack and finally came out victorious. You can bet I told them EXACTLY where I put the tool when I finished!

On the payloads front, a couple of weeks ago, one of the samples in the microgravity sciences glovebox was damaged when it was heated to 835 degrees. After a cleanup procedure, we were back in business this week and running more superconductor samples. After we finished the last of these samples, I changed out the experiment inside the glovebox for a different experiment. This involved pulling out experiment specific hardware for the previous experiment and putting in a new thermal chamber with all the associated connections. I wore goggles and a mask with the air circulation on inside the chamber during this process to change the experiments. Although the circulation was on, I was opening the glove ports to access the work volume. We happened to have KU, so the ground team was watching during this process. Typically I would have all the glove ports (4 of them, 2 large ones on each side and 2 on the front) off and using every advantage to access the hardware and connections from different angles. The ground called and reminded me that I could only open 1 glove port at a time when the air circulation was on good thing I had a mask on so they couldn't see the expression on my face. Needless to say, the procedure took twice as long to complete as expected!

I also got to photograph the soybeans again this week. Since they are being grown in a completely enclosed environment, I have to disconnect the thermal loops and power and data cables and then remove the container from the rack. The beans looked mature and the leaves are turning brown. Not a huge crop, but I counted 17 pods on our 6 plants. The ground team, after seeing the photos, decided it's time to start drying the seeds, so this week I will be removing moisture from the system to aid the process along.

Since most of our windows are located on the nadir side of the station, it is difficult to see much of the ISS from them. However, the small windows in the Soyuz and the docking compartment offer glimpses of some of the structure. One of the most striking things to me about our structure is the solar arrays. We have US solar arrays in a temporary position, mounted on the zenith (upper side) of the station on trusses called Z1 and P6. This particular set of solar arrays will eventually be placed (using the robotic arm) on the end of the truss that we are currently constructing. So even though we cannot view the Z1 and P6 trusses that hold these solar arrays, the arrays themselves are so large (I don't remember exactly, but I think they are each about 140 feet long), that it is possible to see them from the docking compartment. The arrays are reddish-gold when the sun lights them, and during sunrises or sunsets the edges of the arrays look like glowing coals in a fire. The Russian solar arrays are much smaller and mounted directly to the service module and FGB. In contrast these arrays are white in the sun, but during darkness, they have an opalescent quality of blues and greens.

Valery and I conducted some robotic arm operations this week. The ground had noticed some FOD (foreign object debris) on the hatch seal of the MPLM (multi-purpose logistic module) that was returned to Earth with UF-2 (the shuttle flight I launched on) and wanted to check out the hatch interface area on the station to see if we could see any FOD here. In order to look at this interface we had to properly position the arm, and using the camera on the tip of the arm, perform a fly-around of the interface. The hatch interface is protected by four "petals" (they open like a flower), which we commanded open from our computer. As we flew around we noticed a number of sites where debris was apparent, so it was a good call to check this out. Valery and I, of course, volunteered to go outside (perform a spacewalk) to clean it up!

Yesterday we celebrated 100 days on orbit! We arranged, with some extremely helpful folks on the ground, for a party in Houston, as well as food for the folks that had to work in Mission Control in Houston, Huntsville and Moscow. We had pre-recorded a video message to all the folks, and it was played on the TV at the party. Later we made phone calls to the folks in Star City and Houston, just to chat with our friends during the celebration. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Up here we celebrated too, although we had a lot less material to work with. I decided that we would have hamburgers. We have packaged rolls and cheese spread (irradiated) which I warmed up, and dehydrated hamburger----just add hot water. A little catsup and mustard, and you sort of have a hamburger. I was telling Mom about this, and she said that she didn't think rehydrated hamburger sounded too appealing. It could be that I've been eating out of cans and just-add-water bags long enough that this seemed out of the ordinary and almost special.

There is some good news on the food front though. I was in search of a new container of drinks this morning and came across my second (and last) bonus food container. The food is bungeed on the floor of the FGB, stacked about 2.5 feet high. Over the course of 100 days we have eaten our way through about half of the FGB. So, in spite of the fact that I searched for this food container earlier, finding one particular box was not a simple task. But luck was with me today. We share all the food within all the general containers, but the food in our bonus containers consists of special items that we asked for above and beyond the general stuff. Guess what I found. SALSA!!!! I'm so pleased that I am already trying to figure out what I'll have for supper to go with my salsa!

Hope all is well with you on the Earth below,

Peg

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