Mark Shuttleworth - January 18, 2002: situation - off nominal - Today was our first 'off-nominal' simulator session. We
had the afternoon in the Soyuz-TM simulator, with the whole crew. We
were practicing the approach and docking procedures. We didn't know what
glitch they would throw at us, just that something would go wrong and
we'd have to rectify it.
The ISS approach happens on the third day of the flight. We spend the
first day testing the Soyuz, and the second resting. On the third day we
boost the orbit to come closer to the station, then we begin the
rendezvous sequence. Everything is on autopilot unless something goes
wrong. That said, Roberto and Yuri are kept busy checking and
re-checking the status of the propulsion system and docking computer. My
own responsibilities on the day are limited to the radio system for
comms with ground and with the ISS. Unless something goes wrong.
All the procedures are in the 'bord dokumentatsie' or 'flight data
file', which of course is in abbreviated Russian. It's a very low-level
procedural guide, down to every light and switch, and even includes the
precise sentences we are supposed to use to report our status. Every
step is documented down to the second, especially on complex maneuvers
like docking. The documentation consists of four bound books. These are
considered Russian state secrets (you have absolutely NO idea what it
took to get a copy, but in the end it was just a question of asking the
nice librarian). One is for launch and landing, another is for orbital
flight, another is for emergencies and the last for (I think)
off-nominal but not critical problems.
The simulator basically runs through the entire docking process.
Sometimes we can accelerate the sim's clock, so that an hour passes in
five minutes if necessary, for procedures that are spread over a lot of
time when there are no critical operations, but for this one we were
planning to work through all 4 hours in real time. That meant a lot of
waiting. We used the time to practice some of the technical vocab, and
catch a catnap or two.
The Soyuz is an extraordinary piece of equipment. Everything, but
EVERYTHING, has a carefully reasoned purpose. And this becomes ever more
apparent the longer I spend in the sim.
Spending four hours on your back, following the technical discussion is
pretty exhausting. What makes it more difficult is that I haven't
studied the systems that are getting a workout today, so many of the
abbreviations and system names are meaningless to me. But Yuri is very
patient, explaining each step to both Roberto and me. Every sensor,
every detector, every switch, every nozzle, every valve has a name and a
purpose. I'm struck again by the fact that Yuri's a great leader and
commander. I'm learning tons every day, and much of it from him. Both he
and Roberto are great, great guys, and so far we're all getting along
For some or other reason there were a ton of press folks at the session.
It's disconcerting when you are in the middle of the session, and glance
out the window next to your head only to find yourself looking into a
camera lens up VERY close and personal. It wasn't too intrusive, but
there's a limit to the amount of time we want to spend smiling for the
camera. What was very disconcerting was climbing out of the capsule to a
blast of flashbulbs. By the time we finish it is pitch black outside and
there are no lights in the hall, so it's blinding to suddenly have
flashbulbs going off like machine guns in the night. The session is
followed by a few interviews from what turn out to be very nice folks,
and then we head home for a Friday night.
Tonight is banya (sauna) night. We've booked the local Banya for
10-12pm, so after a riotous dinner in the Prophy we head down for Dale's
first Russian sauna. This is a wonderful experience. The banya is an
old, small building near the Prophy and the lake, that has two saunas,
which you can book in two hour sessions. Each sauna has the sauna
itself, a plunge pool of ice cold water, and a chill room with a table
and chairs. They serve draft beer, light and dark, that is brewed right
there in the building. Also, dried and salted baby fish (vobla) that has
to be experience to be appreciated, and other snacks and drinks. The
evening is spent rotating between the sauna which runs very hot and very
wet, the plunge pool (no more than 30 seconds at a time) and the chill
room. It's just a fantastically social evening. And for an extra bonus,
we had a dried birch branch with which to beat one another in the sauna.
This isn't some masochistic ritual, it's about the oils in the birch
that make for a first class sauna. In summer they use nettles too, and
THAT takes some getting used to.
Roberto joins us, as does Evgeny (Eugene) and his wife Natasha. Evgeny
is one of the NASA instructors for the ISS, who is a Russian living in
Houston, so he has a unique perspective on Russian-American relations.
He's also a great fan of the banya so it's lovely to have them with us.
A banya is always excellent, but tonight we get to throw open the back
doors and play in the snow as well as the usual plunge pool. It's a
whole new dimension on temperature shock. And I'm told that there's a
fishing hole in the lake, so next time we are definitely going to try
running straight from the sauna and plunging into the frozen lake
through the fishing hole. Cosmonauts first. By midnight we are in a
first class mood and everyone's sad the banya is booked by someone else
from 12 till 2am, otherwise we would have extended. Next time we'll book
that time too!