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Samantha Cristoforetti began writing her log book in July 2013, 500 days before her launch to the International Space Station. Her logbook entries have been translated into Italian and posted on Avamposto42 from June 2014. To read all about Samantha’s training and  follow her join her on Google+.

L-21: We passed our exams!



Exams finished! Anton, Terry and I completed our very last exam on Friday and then Anton dutifully presided over Russian-style celebrations that started with a formal series of toasts and then migrated to a different location for more partying until late at night. It also happened to be Halloween night and Sasha, our manual docking instructor, even carved a “42” pumpkin for us as a present!


So we are ready to meet our spaceship in Baikonur on Nov 12th, after some rest time here in Star City and the traditional visit to Gagarin’s grave on the Red Square next week.

Everything is going according to schedule. Because many have been asking: our departure for ISS is in no way affected by the Antares mishap earlier this week, that led to the loss of the Cygnus resupply vehicle. It’s been of course very unfortunate and a reminder that spaceflight is a difficult and risky business, but no life was lost and the cargo can be replaced, thanks to the robust and highly redundant logistics chain of the the Space Station. So, as we like to say on Expedition 42, Don’t Panic!

L 21 treBy the way, the mishap also was an opportunity for me to be reminded, once again, of the incredible dedication and professionalism of the human spaceflight teams around the world: when I woke up to the news in Star City, I immediately wondered what the impacts would be. But I only had to look in my inbox: many emails had already arrived and many more would come in throughout the day detailing for us what was lost, what the consequences might be and in many cases even what the recovery plan could look like. It’s just been amazing to see all the teams reacting so fast and making sure that they kept us informed and reassured.

One of the people who immediately got in contact with me was my ESA Mission Director, Alex Nitsch, who is the person ultimately responsible for the ESA mission objectives, in particular science operations in Columbus. In this guest post on the Blue Dot blog you can see his take on “the day after”:

This might not be obvious but, as you can see from Alex’  words, one of the most immediate concerns is to redefine priorities and, accordingly, to rebuild the crew schedule. The crew got a normal weekend off-duty, instead of capturing and berthing Cygnus and, when the working week starts tomorrow, they will be on a new activity timeline. Last-minute rescheduling is not an easy task and I’m sure a lot of people have been working evening and nights: there is always a lot to do onboard, so it’s certainly not a matter of finding things to do, but all the constraints and interdependencies have to be considered!

Also, make sure to read Alex’ words on “trash and stowage choreography”: not the first thing you would have thought of, ah? 

As for “my” luggage, there was nothing too personal on Cygnus. The little box I could fill with personal things, like extra socks and some outreach items, is already on ISS: my fellow ESA astronaut Alex even sent a picture of it from orbit to reassure me! And the mementos that have been entrusted to me by friends and family will fly with me on Soyuz. Cygnus did carry clothing for us for the later part of the mission, but there is time to resupply that (and we even have spare clothing on orbit just in case). All my bonus food containers (9 boxes) are also already on orbit and, regarding regular ISS food, there is many months worth of it already stowed on Station!

Picture: signing the envelope with the failures list for our exam (Credit: NASA/Stephanie Stoll) 
More pictures on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/astrosamantha/


L-25: About orbits, and… packing!



Halfway through our exam week! Today is all dedicated to preparing our upcoming final sims: Russian segment tomorrow and Soyuz on Friday. Can’t believe that in little more than two days we’ll be completely done!

In the meantime, on Monday Terry, Anton and I passed our Soyuz flight program exam. A specialist came from Mission Control Moscow to grind us about our knowledge of the procedures: what happens when, what do we do if this or that goes wrong and we can not proceed with the nominal plan… stuff like that. 

For example, a nominal undocking is always planned on orbit 15 to land in Kazakhstan on orbit 1 of the next day. But if we end up being late for whatever reason, we can still land in Kazakhstan on the two subsequent orbits, number 2 and number 3. 

OK, OK…  what does that mean? Well, the ISS completes one orbit every 93 minutes (roughly), which means that there are about 15.5 orbits per day. We have a conventional numbering of those orbits, from orbit 1 to orbit 15 (mostly) or 16 (once in a while, to catch up). Since the Earth rotates Eastward beneath the ISS, the ground track of the orbit moves towards the West. So, let’s say you passed over your town at 7am; after one orbit, at 8:33, you won’t pass over your town any more, because your town has moved to the East in the meantime! How much? Roughly 23 degrees of longitude. You can get an idea fromt he picture, that I took from ISS-Tracker (www.isstracker.com)

All this to say that, if you want to land in Kazakhstan, you have to plan to descent on orbit 1, 2 or 3: on orbit 4 Kazakhstan will be already too far 
East and, you guessed it, you would have to wait until orbit 1, 2 or 3 of the next day. Btw, hitting Kazakhstan does not qualify for a precise landing: the country is about as big as Europe! To make sure that there will be a rescue team waiting for us at the landing site, we have to do quite a bit better. There is a lot that plays into it, starting with a very precise timing of the deorbit burn. 

The fine tuning is done after atmospheric reentry: the computer flies a trajectory to bring us to the nominal parachute opening point. To be able to calculate the correct control inputs, it has to know the center of mass of the vehicle: that’s why loading of return cargo is so important. So important that we had a dedicated lesson about it on Monday.


So, fast forward to next spring: about two weeks before landing we will get a very long radiogram (those are the Russian instructions) with all the details about stowing return cargo, so that the center of mass of the vehicle will be well known!


L-28: In the Russian segment



Thursday and Friday Terry, Anton and I had our very last training sessions in the Russian segment mockups and in the Soyuz simulator, respectively.
We’ll only go back in there once more next week for the final exams. Believe it or not, tomorrow we’ll start our last week of training. 

The Russian segment exam will be first, on Thursday. I’ve talked about it here, when we took this exam as backup crew in May:

What has changed since then is that Terry and I will report to the commission in the morning, pick the envelope with the scenarios and then… take a break. That’s right, we’ll only join Anton in the afternoon for 4 hours, instead of participating for the full 8 hours. That’s in recognition of the fact that, on Station, it’s really the cosmonauts who work in the Russian segments and non-Russians only perform very basic operations. Or, of course, emergency responses.

Basic operations include, for example using the com system, which is a bit more complicated in the Russian segment, because there’s more communication options and the crew actually does most of the reconfigurations. When the ISS passes over the Russian ground sites, we need to use the Russian segment VHF transmitters and receivers. Otherwise, we connect the Russian segment audio system to the USOS segment and use its Ku-Band or S-Band channels: voice is then transmitted to Mission Control Moscow via Houston (and viceversa). Since Russian VHF passes are few and not very long, we typically have one Space-To-Ground channel on S-Band dedicated to Russian communication. There’s three more channels that can be used for communication with Houston, Munich, Tsukuba and Huntsville. Sometimes one of those channels will be “privatized”, for example for our weekly medical conferences with our flight surgeon or for our weekly conferences with our family. “Privatized” really relates to the ground: anybody could potentially listen in on Station from another module. Except that this would be extremely bad space etiquette!

Other basic ops we need to be able to perform on the Russian segment are related to simply being a human: using the toilet, get water, prepare food. Most of the Russian rations are in cans, which only need to be heated. Juices, tea and coffee, as well as soups, are dehydrated instead, so we need to add water. What I’m holding in my hand in the picture is bread: it comes in little cubes that you can put in your mouth whole, so no crumbles! And there are little slots in the heater dedicated to those bread packages, so that you can heat them along with your food cans: certainly not your freshly baked bread from the bakery, but not bad for a space galley!


L-32: Two more exams passed!



Two more exams passed! 

Yesterday Anton and I both passed our manual descent exam in the centrifuge with a perfect score. If you missed it, you can read about how that all works in this logbook from our backup exam period, except that this exam took place in the smaller centrifuge, since the big 18-arm one is in maintenance:

The “little” centrifuge did provide for some excitement: during my second run, it came unexpectedly to a stop after a loud bang. Turns out that some workers in a nearby area of the building accidentally pulled a cable which caused the centrifuge safety response to kick in and initiate an emergency stop. So it wasn’t a big deal: I was taken out for some verification and a test run and then we could resume the exam.

In the manual descent exam we pick only one envelope that contains all 10 profiles: 5 for the Commander and 5 for the Flight Engineer. I must say that Anton picked a really good envelope for me: all my dynamic runs (with the spinning centrifuge) were undershoots, meaning that we simulated entering the atmosphere too early. In undershoots, we try to fly a more shallow profile, leading to lower Gs: I never went past 3,6 Gs yesterday, which made it for a really comfortable ride. Well picked, Anton!

And today we passed our rendezvous exam. That’s when Anton gets to do the flying and I get to climb into the orbital module to get distance and velocity measurement with a laser range finder. I wrote some more about our rendezvous training here:

Oh, yesterday we also went to Mission Control Moscow for a series of pre-flight briefs by the flight control team about current state of systems and ops. Incidentally, I learned that the more recent ballistic calculations have yielded a later launch time for us. Not a big change, just a couple of minutes. So, our new launch time is on Nov 23rd at 21:01:13 GMT. 


L-34: Our Sokol suits that we will wear in space



The ground is already white here in Star City and preparation for the remaining exams continues: this week Anton and I will have exams in manual reentry and manual rendezvous.

But today I thought I would write a few words about the Sokol, the pressure suit that we wear in the Soyuz. As you might know, the Sokol is custom made for each crewmember: my suit, for example, is number 422. (Yes, there’s 42 in there!).

With the exception of the gloves, the Sokol is one piece and the entire front part (chest and abdomen) can be zipped open: that’s in fact how you can put it on. Donning can be tricky when the suit, as it should be, is a tight fit in terms of crouch-to-shoulder length. In this previous logbook you can find a pictorial description of the donning sequence:

And yes, as you might have noticed watching astronauts walk in the Sokol, it’s not really meant for you to stand upright, so it forces you to bend your back forward: that’s because it’s supposed to feel comfortable when you’re laying in your Soyuz seat, with your knees bent towards your chest. 

L 34On launch day we don the suit about three hours before launch (yes, after putting on a diaper) in one of the Energia facilities at the cosmodrome. Before leaving the building for the launch pad, we do a first leak check: that’s the scene you might have seen on video or photos, when crewmembers take turns lying in a lonely Soyuz seat in the middle of a room, while typically family members, management and some media can observe from behind a glass. Kind of awkward, actually, but that’s the way it’s done.

A second leak check is performed in the Soyuz during pre-launch operations, right after closing the hatch and turning on the com system, so we can talk to the control bunker. I’ve talked in this older logbook about the leak checks and the interfaces of the suit to the Soyuz.

Once we put on the gloves for the leak check, we don’t remove them anymore until we’re on orbit. That’s because improper donning of the gloves can introduce a leak, so we don’t mess with the gloves any more after the leak check. We do open the helmet, though, and we close it again about 5 minutes before launch.

Once in orbit, we start leak checking the Soyuz, to make sure that we have good seals and we’re not loosing atmosphere into space. After the first 15 min of the leak check, if the pressure drop is within acceptable limits, we’re allowed to remove the gloves: and believe me, it makes it a lot easier to flip the pages as you work to procedures!

With the new quick flight profile that brings us to docking in six hours, the flight to ISS is very busy and there is no time to get out of the Sokol. It’s only after docking that we can change into the more comfortable overalls, that you’re probably see astronauts wear when at hatch opening, when they finally entered the Space Station.

As for the Sokol suits: they will stay in the orbital module of the Soyuz until it’s time to wear them again for landing. But before stowing them away, there are connected to the ventilation system for a few hours so they can dry!