Astronaut's Report #002 From the Baikonur Cosmodrome
Alex (left) and me before our last mission to the ISS. Notice Mars in the background. We were totally on Mars.
Hey everybody, it's Commander Michael Foale here, and I hope things are really going awesome for you! Things are sure going awesome for me because I am about go back up to the International Space Station to relive my dream of being a certified astronaut.
Some of you may have been watching on the news and heard about the trouble up on the International Space Station. They're running out of food. That's because of what happened with the Space Shuttle Columbia. All of the "Progress" resupply missions to the International Space Station are being conducted by the Russian space program. The Russians aren't really too happy about this and frankly, neither am I. After spending all that time onboard MIR I keep having nightmares about the day that Soyuz crashed into us. I thought we were all dead meat and now I have to go up and dock with the ISS in a Soyuz. But at least I'm going to be in space again, and that's all that matters, right? No more "Hey kids, I'm an astronaut" speaking tours. No more "we want you to open this new mall because you were blasted into space" community events. I'm back in the fast lane with my good buddy Alexander Y. Kaleri.
So yeah, we're really excited about this resupply mission because I know those guys up there are bound to be hungry. We don't want them eating nothing but the hamburger pills or they might start trying to kill each other. Trust me, you have to have variety in your pills or you will go completely crazy. Alex knows Sharipov, the Russian on board, and he says that he can hold out, but man I just don't know about Leroy Chiao. He is a good guy but he could be a big baby. During our astronaut school stuff he would get all sweaty and nervous when we were going to do the thing where they pump your stomach full of radioactive glop. Everyone else was like "that's cool, whatever man, we're astronauts" and Chiao was just dropping a load in his BVDs because of it. He always ate these damn mints too and I bet just running out of those probably has him on the edge.
Anyway, back to me, because me and Alex have been training really hard in how to operate a Soyuz capsule to bring supplies to the ISS. Training in Russia is way different than training in America. In America they have all these computers and they hook you up to all these machines - well, Russia has plenty of machines but they're older and weird looking - and for training we do really crazy exercises that I haven't even heard of.
Here is some of the awesome cosmonaut (that's Russian for astronaut) things we have been doing in training here at Baikonur.
Docking simulation. Docking is really important and the Soyuz has a pretty unique docking system. You see with shuttles we try to finesse everything by firing tiny attitude boosters until we're just perfectly aligned. Forget that! With a Soyuz you have a button that says "dock" on it and then you wait until you can see the docking arm and then you hit the dock button. This activates a huge booster that will burn for thirty seconds and you use the reinforced docking hatch on the Soyuz to bend the docking arm until it is locked into place. While you're docking you have to wear a crash helmet and a mouthpiece because lots of stuff flies around. They simulated this by putting us in our landing suits inside a cage full of slate shingles, then dropping us fifty feet into a pool. It sucked pretty bad and I partially collapsed one of my lungs and broke three ribs, but hey, I think I know how to dock.
Publicity photo before training began at the cosmodrome. That guy on the right was a backup and he went into a "torso stress simulator" made out of a four ton press and never emerged.
When you launch in a Soyuz there is a nine percent chance that the rocket booster will misfire upward into the capsule and you have to be prepared for an emergency escape. They simulated this by putting me inside a barrel and rolling me down a hill. I totally upchucked bad, and they were all laughing. I thought it was a little weird because I never saw Alex do it, but hey, he's been a cosmonaut for like a thousand years (he is old as dirt) and I bet he did it a long time ago.
I thought the miniature pig laser tests we did for NASA on the ISS were crazy. They showed us this test we're taking to the astronauts on the ISS and it's like this monkey strapped into a big cannon ball and all you do is stab it with knives over and over and record its screams. Alex said that on his first mission on the MIR they just strangled a woman to see if it took longer for her to die in zero gravity. Cosmonauts are like astronauts but scarier.
Every day we have to spend three one hour sessions in the cosmodrome's gymnasium. I was like "cool, I can do some treadmill, then maybe pilates and some weight machine". Alex was like "ha ha" and then we opened the door and there was a big pit where these shirtless bald guys hit us with leather straps for an hour. I was black and blue for weeks but I've got to admit that at this point I hardly feel anything. Then they have us sit in scalding water for three minutes and then jump into ice cold water. If we don't die from a heart attack we are that much closer to being a cosmonaut.
They had this rusty model of a Soyuz for control training. It was pretty cool but Alex kept telling me it was haunted and I started to get a little freaked out because of that and the weird writing and everything. We had to sit in it for a day straight and then when I thought it was time to leave they had us do a second day with no power outage to simulate "catastrophic death failure". The interesting thing is that on the ISS or the shuttle we have a space toilet, but in the Soyuz you have to crap in a bag with absolutely no assistance. The inside of that thing was like a sewer pipe after 48 hours.
Training has been a bear (like a Russian bear!) but I think I am starting to be ready for this mission. Alex is super pumped about it again and he claims that the whole reason he volunteered was because his wife thinks he's cheating and he just wanted to get out of the house. I was like "man, space is a long way to go instead of the couch" and then I was like "wait, volunteered?!" because I didn't ask to go on this mission. Some NASA big shot sent me an email telling me that I had just won the astronaut's prize pool and to meet him at the Burger King parking lot. I see this van with NASA on the side and I walk towards it and the door opens and then everything goes dark. When I wake up I'm on a C-130 from Rammstein headed for Baikonur.
Not to be all down on the Russians, because that is not my thing at all. I know a lot of kids read this so I don't want to discourage you from becoming an astronaut or a cosmonaut or a commienaut or whatever the Chinese dudes are going to call themselves. Space is as awesome as it gets and I want you to know that it is just a blast to go into space.
Okay, so, back to the mission. We are going up to the ISS to deliver food to cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and astronaut Leroy Chiao. We will be flying in a Soyuz Mark VI capsule capable of carrying 90 days worth of provisions, experiments, and various other supplies (baby wipes) up to the ISS. Here is a diagram of the Soyuz Mark VI that I notated during our control surfaces class.
That's the sleek piece of Eastern Bloc hardware that is going to whisk Alex and me up to the International Space Station. I know! It's like I'm living the dream here! I've always wanted to explode off a launching pad inside of a bathysphere made out of asbestos and sheet metal. Then when I'm in space I get to aim that tub of pure dream machine at something just a little bit bigger than a pie tin. Docking hatches are about 36 inches in diameter. Surrounding those 36 inches are roughly a bajillion inches of painful space death. Will we blast through the side of the experiment module? Will we sheer off the command module? Will our docking booster just explode when we hit the dock button? Or will we miss entirely and coast off into space to sleep eternally in the dark beyond? It'll be fun to find out!
While I'm on the subject of the fun let me give you the lowdown on the NASA employee who we are hand-delivering pizza pills to. Now, normally I would just copy down a NASA astronaut bio in here from the NASA computers, but their IT department is merciless. Install one copy of Bonzai buddy on a military satellite's targeting system and, well, let's just say you're persona non grata in the computer lab. So here's my take on Leroy Chiao.
Official Name: Chiao, Leroy
Leroy is such a dork.
Nickname: Bad Bad Leroy Chiao
Secret Astronaut Name: Omega Viper
Favorite Quote: "Oh Michaer Foare, how you so good at astlonauting? Show Reloy how it done!"
History: Leroy was a total dork when he showed up at astronaut academy and nobody, me included, thought that he would make the cut to the astronaut graduate program. Leroy was really smart though, real good with numbers, and as everyone knows the only thing more important to an astronaut than his wits is mathematics. You would be amazed how many space crises have been resolved with trigonometry. Leroy was still a dork in the graduate program with me but he tried as hard as everyone else and he finally made the cut, just a long time after I did.
Astronaut Experience: Leroy has always been really good in the simulator, but even if you get him behind the controls of a training plane he would start to get all sweaty and nervous. He would still be good but just really sweaty. Like a wrestler or a long distance runner, only flying a plane or spaceship.
Darkest Secret: Leroy isn't actually Asian, his real name is Blake Conners and he is from Nebraska. He just pretends to be Asian so he gets preferential treatment from an image conscious NASA. He knew there could only be one corn fed super white guy on the NASA team, and I'm just an awesomer astronaut than him.
Funniest Goof: We hired a stripper for his birthday and so we were all in the zero gravity simulation area and he was tied to a chair and the stripper was doing her thing. He was loving it and we had this awesome rock music blaring on a boombox. Then the stripper puts a blindfold on him and we all hurry and leave the room. Boy was he in hot water when the tour group from Lawndale Elementary School got to see what an astronaut's junk looks like (it looks like normal junk but is way bigger especially on me).
Astronaut Rating: I would give him three stars out of five. He's a good guy and he has a good astronaut mind, but he has his issues. He's no Bumblin' Pete Smith or Airlock Annie Singh, but I could see him getting nervous and accidentally spilling his astronaut coffee on the computers.
Thanks again for sending me on this mission NASA! If it is half as awesome as the training process has been then I am in for a real treat. I just hope that when I die a horrible and sudden death in the cold grip of vacuum that you properly remember my greatness as an astronaut and don't attribute whatever disaster claims my life to the dreaded "pilot error". Jeez, all of this so that sweaty butthead Leroy can get some friggin' corn dog pills. Life as an astronaut is not always what I had hoped it would be.