the first african in space
the crew
Captain's log

Mark Shuttleworth - January 28, 2002: Something old, something new - Getting invited to Houston for ISS training is a major breakthrough for everybody involved. It shows just how far things have come with NASA. I have to hand it to these guys - they have turned the situation around dramatically from where everyone was a year ago.

We arrived in Houston on Saturday afternoon, very jetlagged indeed. Sixteen hours of flying and a time change of nine hours pretty much wiped out the crew. The apartments that Star City maintains here are super, five minutes from Johnson Space Center and very comfy. Yuri and I are staying together, Roberto has a house here since he was all set to move here before being assigned to the Soyuz flight.

There are lots of folks here from Russia. Several ISS crews are in training, together with their doctors, engineers and logistical support. Our crew and backup are another six. So of course we had to have a cosmonaut party on Saturday night which involved large amounts of Russian food and vodka. I think we all arrived home around 4am on Sunday, and slept late. Sunday, as a result, was very easy going. We did some shopping - beer, bread and music, everything necessary for bachelor life on assignment - and passed out early.

Monday started off with the weekly NASA astronauts meeting. We were presented to the NASA astronaut corps as the next Soyuz crew. It was great to see some familliar faces there - Bill McArthur (former NASA DOR at Star City) in particular. And I met Andy Thomas and Debbie Brown, who took the trouble to come to SA to help with our education program, for the first time. Also, it was announced that Gennady and Oleg, our Soyuz backup crew, together with Mike Finke our host in Houston, would be the prime crew for Station increment 9.

The purpose of our training here is basic familiarization with the US segment of the ISS. The most important part of that is the emergency procedures and equipment. So after a brief overview we get down to brass tacks - fire extinguishers and oxygen masks.

The first thing I notice is the difference in the age of the equipment. Everything here seems brand new compared to Star City. Not just in the fact that the demo equipment is brand new, but that the DESIGN is brand new too. In the Russian segment, most of the design work took place in the 70's, and with very few exceptions all the components are unchanged since then. The US segment was designed in the 90's and it shows. The fire extinguisher looks substantially more effective than the Russian one, and although looks can be deceiving it's comforting to see something that looks state of the art in the critical equipment rack. The US gas mask is very cool - press a button and the pressurized air pushes out the straps so your head fits in neatly, let go and the straps collapse tightly around your skull, pulling the mask to your face for a good seal. By contrast, the Russian model just uses rubber straps. And that seems to be the order of the day - the US equipment is more up to date, but possibly more complex. I wonder over time which set of equipment will prove more robust. The neat thing about the partnership is that both sides watch and learn from each other, but try different things. In the long run they should move faster that way than if they each maintained separate stations.

There are lots of nice features on the US side. For example, the fire extinguisher can be used on open flames, but also can be used to flush an equipment rack with carbon dioxide to kill a contained fire. All the US equipment racks have the necessary fixtures. And the oxygen masks use bottled oxygen but can be hooked up to oxygen points in the US segment for longer breathing support. By contrast, the Russian gas masks use chemicals to produce oxygen, and when they are done, if you can't breathe, you leave. But the extra features mean that it takes a lot more training to drill the modalities of operation on the US side.

We get a tour of the facility after the emergency procedures are done. We visited the Mission Control for ISS which was live of course, as well as the Shuttle Mission Control which was running an integrated sim (where the full shuttle crew sit in their sim, and the full ground control talk through a full day's operations). We also saw the old Houston Mission Control room where the flight directors managed the early shuttle, Apollo and Gemini missions. This is the place where Neil Armstrong was given the go ahead to leave the LEM and step onto the moon, this is where they talked Apollo 13 back home safely. It's now a national monument. Incredible to think they did that without any modern computers at all.

Last we sat in on an ISS / shuttle EVA simulation, where we listened to the conversation between the EVA crew (who are in a huge swimming pool, simulating the neutral boyancy of weightlessness) and the shuttle crew, and the ISS crew, and both ground control centers. There are a huge number of people involved in an operation like that, tracking every parameter you can imagine. The flight director and capcom, who are at the centre of this web of communication, have to listen and monitor all those conversations and instruct the crews as to their precise movements and actions as the situation unfolds. Many of these folks are astronauts themselves (traditionally, capcom or the person who actually talks to the astronauts is always an astronaut too). Their calm coordination is awesome. They seem able to juggle multiple threads of activity and draw them all together as needed.

Landing Countdown to 05:51 05 May

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