Monthly Archive: June 2015

Floating ahead…

Wow, a world record! Congratulations, Samantha! An Italian woman is now the record holder for the “longest female presence in space”! Even longer than any cosmonaut, and the Russians have a history of long space missions! She is also longer than the previous record holder Suni Williams, who has stayed 195 days in space on a single mission… Now Samantha is “one step ahead”!
Servus Samantha, the comic for you is finished. Credits: DLR

Servus Samantha, the comic for you is finished. Credits: DLR

This event was reason enough for our Ground Controller David Hagenstroem to draw a memorable comic. Of course we wanted Samantha to know that we are aware of her new ‘power’ – that is why we wanted to bring her the comic on the Space Station. Should not be a big problem, right? Well, “In principle, no”. But a space station is, even in our times of ubiquitous Internet a special place, for space enthusiasts at least. I still remember when a NASA colleague asked me if I wanted to send an image to the Space Shuttle computer while I was getting ‘On The Job Training’ in Houston, USA. You bet!! It was a simple key-press in reality but for space enthusiasts like me it was the most amazing thing in the world. In the following weeks I got on everyone’s nerves recounting my story over and over…
The Daily Summary on Monday with David's comic. Credits: DLR

The Daily Summary on Monday with David’s comic. Credits: DLR

Back to the comic: In principle, astronauts can receive emails on the Station. But for your email to actually arrive in their inbox, you need to be on a special list that the astronauts manage themselves. Working at a control center we could of course use this communication channel, but we chose another way. Every day the crew receives a “daily summary” that is prepared on ground and radioed up. This document includes comments on the day’s schedule, various Space Station parameters and a question-and-answer section. We sometimes add a caricature, a riddle or another bit of fun to make our colleagues in space start the day with a smile. Astronauts are encouraged to study the Daily Summary in the morning so that any questions or comments they have can be asked during the daily planning conference. We placed the comic in the Daily Summary and added a few notes. Pretty soon we heard Samantha’s friendly voice during the Daily Planning Conference saying she was pleased about it … Now I am afraid that I must go seriously talk to David and warn him that he will not make many friends, if he is permanently talking about how he once sent a drawing to space …

Don't panic


Safe journey back, Samantha!

Safe journey back, Samantha! This time it seems to be true: the mission of Samantha and her colleagues Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov will end 11 June after 199,7 days. Only 8 hours short of 200 days. Wednesday at 16:40, with almost a day in advance, Terry handed over the command of the Space Station to Gennady Padalka.
200 days in space. Credits: ESA/NASA

200 days in space. Credits: ESA/NASA

Thursday is the day of return. It is an early start before they close the hatch behind them once in the Soyuz capsule. This will be at around 8:55 CEST. At this point a series of checks and tests of their return vehicle will last for a few orbits. Around 12:20 CEST, the three astronauts leave Space Station: it is time for the so-called undocking. The Soyuz  “drops its moorings” and starts to fall, moving to a different orbit from the International Space Station. The return journey is effectively nothing more than a fall to the Earth in a controlled manner. After a few orbits, the most important moment comes: the Soyuz turns the engines on and gives the final push to start its deorbit at around 14:51. It then dives into the atmosphere. Soon after, two of the three modules that make up the Soyuz are discarded: the orbital module and the propulsion module have finished their task and are no longer needed. Only the landing module remains, protected by a heat shield. When it enters the more dense layers of the atmosphere, the module will be akin to a comet on fire, surrounded by glowing plasma. About 20 minutes from landing, scheduled for 15:43, the spacecraft manoeuvres to reduce its speed. Inside eight minutes it will slow to 800 km/h. 15 minutes before landing, four parachutes open: first two followed by two more in quick succession slowing the capsule to about 30 km / h. Just a second before landing, four small engines light up, like spaceships in science fiction movies, and slow the speed to impact to about 5 km/h. Despite being a bumpy ride, the astronaut’s is important: to make the reentry softer their seats are moulded to fit them perfectly, like protective nests. Despite this, there is no point in denying it: the return is no stroll in the park. Shocks, tears, decelerations: astronauts spend the last moments of their mission subjected to violent deceleration, rediscovering the meaning of weight. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recounted how he was surprised to feel the weight of his tongue and lips, and that even talking felt different after his months in space. Knowing Samantha, and her communication skills, we are not panicking: she will be able to continue to talk as she did before! Safe journey home! Timeline Times in Central European Summer Time:
  • 8:55 Expedition 43 hatch closing
  • 12:18 Undocking command to open hooks and latches
  • 12:20 Undocking – Hooks open and physical separation of Soyuz TMA-15M
  • 12:23 Separation burn 1, an 8-second burn of the Soyuz engines, .60 m/s
  • 12:24 Separation burn 2, a 30-second burn of the Soyuz engines, 1.45 m/s
  • 14:51 Deorbit burn lasting 4:35, 128 m/s. Soyuz is now around 12 km from the International Space Station at 401.8 km altitude
  • 15:18 Separation of Modules at 140 km altitude
  • Landing site. Credits: NASA

    Landing site. Credits: NASA

    15:26 Maximum loads on the astronauts up to five times normal gravity at 36.5 km altitude
  • 15:28 Command to open parachutes at 10.7 km. Two Pilot Parachutes are first deployed, the second of which extracts the drogue chute, slowing the Soyuz down from a descent rate of 230 m/s to 80 m/s. The Main Parachute is then released, slowing the Soyuz to a 7.2 m/s. The Soyuz descends at an angle of 30 degrees to expel heat, then shifts to a straight vertical descent.
  • 15:43 Touchdown after engine firing to slow the Soyuz down to 1.5 m/s around 80 cm above ground.
Landing site: about 145 km southeast of Dzhezkazgan. Landing will occur approximately 1 hour, 34 minutes before sunset at the landing site in Kazakhstan.    

Don't panic


I’m a plumber by profession

If I had some more free time – oh how I wish…! – if I had more free time and I had finished my home construction, landscaped the garden and my children were grown-up and no longer require my parenting, then I could finally read up on game theory. Or maybe learn to play the guitar, or drum. I might investigate what is happening in the field of electron microscopy – maybe even do a little more sports? Sitting on the sofa and try hard to not do anything might be an option too.
Columbus module. Credits: ESA/NASA

Columbus module. Credits: ESA/NASA

In all likelihood I would run out of time due to sheer recreational stress… The situation on the Space Station is comparable these days: Three of the astronauts on the International Space Station have had their return to Earth delayed so we unexpectedly had additional crew time for them. This does not mean that Samantha and company were finally able to fully enjoy the great view of the Earth, because here at the control centre we have a long wish list of things that we want done. We recently moved to Node 3 the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), which was designed as a transport container for the Space Shuttle and left attached to Node 2 after the end of the Shuttle era. This move offers extra storage space so that Node 2 has an extra docking port for future visiting vehicles. We also finally exchanged the old-style video tape recorder in Columbus for a modern hard disk recorder. Water valve fixing Samantha faced exchanging a water valve, which had not been functioning as expected for some time now on Friday: we put the extensive activities on her timeline and it kept her busy. Samantha had to start work the day before by reconfiguring the Columbus module as the water valve is hidden behind panels next to the hatch and blocked by an experiment rack. So Samantha first had prepare the “Express rack 3” to tilt it away to enable access to the valve. Many cables and pipes had to be removed for power, nitrogen, as well as the venting and vacuum lines, video connections and data lines.
Anna Pateraki on the STRATOS console supporting the work from ground. Credits: DLR

Anna Pateraki on the STRATOS console supporting the work from ground. Credits: DLR

On Friday, Samantha had to tilt the rack forward into the cabin, which was easy to do in weightlessness. She now had access to the area where the water valves are in Columbus and could remove the Nomex cover. We were now looking into Columbus’s innards. Columbus needs to be actively cooled as some hardware produces heat which is removed by water. In addition the air of the module must be cooled: air conditioning in space! Lastly humidity is an issue, astronauts sweat like everyone else and the water in the air must be kept within limits. Condensation would be a serious problem, especially in areas where electrical current is present. Therefore we use our cooling-water system to force condensation in a special device that cools the air and dehumidifies it before sending the collected water to the American recycling system. Columbus has two water pumps to do all this and various mechanisms to adjust the temperature of the water coupled with two heat exchangers that transfer absorbed heat to the outer ammonia cooling circuit, from where the heat is radiated into space. Of course that requires a lot of valves, for water shutoff, mixing or bypassing, and today Samantha was looking to replace the cleverly-named “Water-On-Off Valve 6” which we call WOOV6. Naturally the Columbus Control Centre made sure no more water flowed through that valve – in addition we allowed it to warm slightly: we didn’t want to ask the Italian astronaut to put on winter gloves for this operation. With the Express Rack 3 tilted, normal air circulation was disrupted – meaning the smoke detectors could not monitor all areas of the module and the astronauts had to be “prime for smoke detection”.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also did some do-it-yourself in Columbus. Credits: NASA

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also did some do-it-yourself in Columbus. Credits: NASA

With these prerequisites Samantha was “go” to start the 28-page procedure to replace the valve. For the next four hours the astronaut acted as Do-It-Yourselfer: she inspected the new WOOV, set up her workplace, investigated the old WOOV and took pictures of it, unplugged it in order: electric connections, water pipes – and eventually started to pull it out. Once installed she put in the new valve, insulated it and turned it on… In between there was a brief but hectic moment when Sam informed us that one of the quick-release fasteners was leaking. Water floating about the cabin is always something that we do not appreciate at all. We quickly got the situation under control though and she mopped up the spilled water. It was already evening in Europe before we could finally switch on the new valve for the first time from ground control. We let out a sigh of relief together with the engineers in Turin and Bremen – to misquote Galileo Galilei: “And yet it moves!” Well done – summer is here and it is important that cooling systems work… 😉

Don't panic


Samantha overtakes Sunita as holder of longest spaceflight for women

Sunita Williams during spacewalk. Credits: NASA

Sunita Williams during spacewalk. Credits: NASA

Since Saturday 6 June at around 16:21 CET (14:21 GMT) ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti holds the record for the longest single mission for a woman. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams previously held that record with 195 days after Expedition 33 on the International Space Station. Sunita remains the record-holder for number of spacewalks done by a woman (seven), including the most time spend on spacewalks in total for a woman at 50 hours, 40 minutes. Samantha’s Futura mission was extended after a problem with a Progress supply ferry. She already broke the record of longest single mission for an ESA astronaut last week.

Don't panic


Samantha beats ESA astronaut single-duration record

Today at around 17:27 CET ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will break the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight of an ESA astronaut. She was originally planned to return to Earth on 12 May but her Futura mission was extended after a problem with a Progress supply ferry.

The record was held until now by ESA astronaut André Kuipers who spent 193 days in space in 2012 for his PromISSe mission. His mission was also extended after a spacecraft problem. From his blog:

“A leak was found on the Soyuz capsule that was supposed to ferry the Expedition 31 crew up here. So the next Soyuz in line is being prepared quickly. It will not be ready before mid-march so the launch has been delayed by two months. This will delay landing for Dan, Anton and Anatoly. This also has consequences for myself, Don and Oleg. The delay is now six weeks and the official landing date is set for 1 July.”

Neither Samantha or André have the record for the most time an ESA astronaut has spent in space, that record goes to ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter with 350 days spent in space over two missions, 179 on space station Mir in 1995 and 171 on the International Space Station as part of Expedition 2 in 2006.

Don't panic


Cooking in space at the Restaurant at the end of the universe

Six month have passed already since the beginning the Futura mission and Node 1, our personal “Restaurant at the end of the universe” has witnessed many space meals, with dishes rehydrated or heated in our food warmer. Usually our dishes are ready to eat or at least very easy to assemble: quick and easy! Did I mention already that my favorite dish is the wonderful quinoa salad with mackerel by Stefano Polato, the official chef of the Futura mission and of Outpost42? But the curry chicken with mushrooms and peas is great as well. They are full meals, healthy and delicious! I took with me a pretty good supply of read-to-eat pouches, but I also have the ingredients in separate pouches: it’s possible to assemble them onboard, although it can be quite a challenge in weightlessness. Take a look!

It’s a bit of work, for sure, but I enjoy being able to change the quantities of the different ingredients a bit to vary the overall taste. I simply recreated the recipes of our chef Stefano, because I’m not a very creative cook. But maybe you have some ideas to suggest for my very last week onboard? Maybe a meal according to the principles we’ve been talking about on Outpost42. Here are my favorite ingredients here onboars, some from my bonus food and some from the ISS standard menu. Why don’t you try your recipe at home and send us a picture? Then we can see the difference making them in space. Or, if you’re prefer, you can create the Futura space recipes in your home kitchen. It’s easy, here Stefano showed me how to prepare them. And don’t forget to send us a picture! (On twitter with the hashtag #SpaceFoodAtHome or if you prefer Facebook just post them as a comment to this post). Power bar with Goji, chocolate and spirulina
Whole red rice with turmeric chicken
Quinoa salad with mackerel and vegetables

It's rocket fuel