Lara Keytel - February 12, 2002: Sampling spit - Today was a good day! How many times do you get to wake up some poor bloke with the chorus: “Okay, so who wants to chew on a nice dried dental swab this morning? Actually, make that three nice dental swabs”? As if he wasn’t dry-mouth already from having the fear of Lara put into him, try producing enough saliva to fill three 5cm swabs, each the thickness of an AAA battery. Mark took solace in the fact that I have to recruit one of his fellow cosmonauts to act as a control subject.
Following my saliva collections it was off to meet the medical team from GCTC that is based here at Star City. What I initially struggled with when I first started this project was that the Russian Space programme is administered by three separate groups who are not necessarily talking to each other at any point in time.
As a result, each of the three groups often asks us to produce the same document, at the same time (if we are lucky). The three groups are IMBP or Institute for Biomedical problems (don’t ask about the problems), Energia, who handle the equipment side of the space programme, and GCTC, who handle the cosmonaut training and preparation.
You can imagine the logistical headache with putting together a programme such as the FAIS, in which we are trying to co-ordinate all three groups – as outsiders. Lots of fun.
Nonetheless, today I met my GCTC counterparts and put together a minute-by-minute detail of the eight days leading up to the launch, the 10 days that Mark will be in space and the first couple of days back on Earth.
It is mind-blowing to realise the minute detail that goes into planning one of these missions. Each minute is planned to the last, and there are back-up plans to back up the back up plans, if you catch my drift. There are no “ifs” and “buts” here; it is exact and protocols and schedules closely followed. Man, am I glad I got in early to let them know my requirements for Mark.
GCTC enjoyed my simplification of the protocol. In retrospect, I realise that my initial protocol, while providing me with a lot of data, was not perhaps that suited to space research. I have simplified it greatly, which means it’s much easier for Mark to conduct on himself. In this way, I’m guaranteed results.
After my morning meetings, I had my first go on the centrifuge. I was introduced to the laboratory head scientist, who is 82 years old and just happened to be in the same position when Yuri Gagarin first went up into space. Nothing like looking a living legend in the eye.
He proudly showed me the on-off switch to the centrifuge (which was probably in the lab even before he arrived on the scene). I nodded appreciatively and proudly placed my first saliva swab collections into the centrifuge, fired her up and waited for the samples while making small talk with my newly acquired Russian vocabulary: ”Da, da, dadadadadada, dada, da, dada, da, dadaada.” So it continued until my samples were ready.
Well, I must say that Mark performed excellently and I managed to have enough saliva to fill all the required vials for analysis. Our control subject, on the other hand, performed dismally and it has become a case of "Show Me The Saliva!". Go figure. Please email any suggestions, care of the African In Space web page.
That just about wrapped it up for the day. All that was left was for us to enjoy a dinner prepared by Karen again, all wrapped up, kind of our very own Mexican kitchen in our Russian kitchen. I’m logging everything Mark consumes at the moment, and this provided some very entertaining moments at the dinner table:
Lara: Mark, what did you have for starters today at lunch?
Mark: This thingy, slimy, green cabbagy stuff, with fish, and beetroot, and onion. The same one we have every lunch!
Lara: Okay, let’s start with the cabbage, was it boiled?
Mark: Um … no, it was slimy, but still crunchy, with bits in it.
Lara: Okay, what kind of bits?
Mark: Hmmm…(no answer)
Lara: Okay, let’s move onto the rest of it. Tell me about the beetroot and onion.
Mark: Lara, I told you already. It was all part of the starter plate, all chopped up, and thrown together, and it’s the same everyday, only the fish changes.
And so it continues: how was it prepared? How much did you eat? What percentage fat milk did you drink? How many Snickers bars did you eat? And, most importantly, Who ate all the salami?