Soyuz Training - Russia
October 29 - November 2, 2007

My Monday actually started off with an admin period. That was nice. No need to rush into the week. I used the time in the gym. And then I started two new subjects - launch escape system and landing aids. These are the sets of equipment that are going to get the capsule to the ground should there be a problem during a launch. Basically the capsule where the crew is separates from the rest of the rocket that is trying to get the capsule in space. Then, smaller rockets take the capsule up to a high enough altitude so that the parachute system (which is used during a regular landing) can then operate. I know it sounds dicey, but there has been one occasion in the distant past where this system was put into use and everything turned out the way it was supposed to. The crew got to the ground safely when their launch rocket exploded. That is actually comforting that it does not just work on paper, but it actually works.

My last class of the day was a motion control systems review. I evidently did not study what the instructor had expected me to and we were having another one of those days where we were not in sync, so it was a very trying class. I felt mentally beat up afterwards. It did not help that it was quite dark when we were done. Somehow, having that extra hour yesterday when we went off daylight savings did not translate into feeling like we were better off today. When we were done at 6:00 it definitely felt like we had gone until 7:00.

Tuesday turned out to be a much better day today in the motion control world, which was surprising because I was up fairly late the night before studying. I know I did not have enough sleep. But, we were in the simulator all morning and things were falling into place. Actually, I have no idea how my instructor felt, but I felt like things were going well. Eight days until the dreaded test on this subject.

In the afternoon I had a practical class on using the laptops in the Russian segment to interact with the hardware systems. It was a pretty basic class and, because the American designers worked extensively with the Russian designers on having consistency between the two halves of the Station, it is not all that hard to figure out. Other than not recognizing some of the words in Russian that are on the buttons that you click, it is fairly straightforward. My last period of the day was gym time. I had a good work out and then I hit the books again.

Wednesday was not nearly as bad of a day as I had expected, being a Wednesday and being that I stayed up quite late studying. My first class was more review of the analog portion of the motion control system. I felt like it went well. I knew a lot of the answers to the questions I was asked. My studying last night paid off. Then I had Russian and it was not as draining as it usually is. I think my Russian teacher and I have finally reached an unspoken agreement that I simply do not have the luxury of devoting as much time to Russian study as either one of us would like.

For my last class of the day I had a practical session on some of the landing equipment that we went over in class on Monday, namely the seat that we ride in and how to prepare it before you leave the station. The seat actually has a shock absorber built into its frame that collapses when you hit the ground. To be accurate, the general plan is that with the parachute and the small landing rockets that fire right before you reach the ground, the shock absorber should not end up being compressed. But, if you end up reaching the ground at a faster rate than is expected, then the shock absorber is there to take up some of the force.

After we played with the seat for awhile, we then we went over some of the questions that are likely to appear on my test on this subject on Friday. In the evening I again stayed up late studying. I am really trying hard to know the motion control system well as it is sort of the standard by which the astronauts/cosmonauts are judged. If I do well on this test, then the instructors know that I am a worthy person to fly on the Soyuz. So, not only is it important because it is such a crucial system, it is important because my performance on this test will pretty much set the tone with the instructors for the rest of my training.

Today was Halloween. Granted it is not an occasion celebrated by Russians, but the local kids know that Americans celebrate it, so they come by and trick or treat. All of us in town had dinner together, so the kids just had one location to go. But, they came by a couple of times and we gave them candy. It was kind of cute.

Thursday was quite a mental workout. The first class period was test prep for the analog portion of the motion control system. Two hours of questions. The second class was test prep for the digital portion of the motion control system. Two more hours of questions. The third class was test prep on the launch escape system and the landing aids. Luckily, this class did not go the full two hours. After all that questioning I was mentally drained. Thankfully, I had gym time scheduled for the last period. I did go, but I had a nap first. All the staying up late this week to study was catching up with me. After the gym break and dinner it was back to the books, of course.

Friday was another big day of questioning. The first thing I had was more motion control test prep. For this round, however, the digital and analog portions were together and the instructor invited other instructors to join us. So, it was much more serious than other test prep sessions. It was pretty much like taking the test. The only thing missing were the designers there asking questions. The instructors even had me sit at the front of the room as that is where I will be for the real test. My two instructors fired questions at me for about an hour and a half straight. The other folks in the room chimed in with a question or two every once in awhile. I felt good because I was able to confidently answer most of the questions correctly. But not quite all of them. And, I still do not answer them exactly the way that they want me to, but I was pleased with how things went. Though, I know I still have a lot of studying to do, but after last night I feel much better about my knowledge than I did yesterday. My nap yesterday refreshed me and I ended up staying up VERY late trying to get the random bits of information that I know about the system organized in my mind. Later in the day I heard from one of the Russian training integrators that the instructors were satisfied with how I did. That is a relief.

Unfortunately, my test has been moved from next Wednesday to next Friday. Apparently there is a schedule conflict with one of the instructors. On the one hand, that means more time to study, but on the other hand it means more time to fret. I am just ready to have it over with.

After the motion control fun I had another practical session on the laptops for the Russian segment. It was a nice mental break. My last activity for the week was my test on the launch escape and landing aids systems. It went just fine. Actually, it was not too bad, as tests go.

Whew! What a week. I took the evening off and hung out with the current folks in town.

My weekend was typical - grocery store on Saturday and study on Sunday. It snowed a bit this weekend as well. Not as much as it did before, but enough to cover the ground and make things slippery to walk on. I do not think this snow is going to melt any time soon. The forecast is not calling for us to get above freezing at all this week.

© Shannon Walker   2009

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