Soyuz Training - Russia
November 5 - 9, 2007

Monday was actually a holiday in Russia. To be honest, I am not even sure what the holiday was, but it was nice to have a day off. I asked about it, but the explanation was rather fuzzy - something to do with an event during the revolution in 1917 that actually occurred in the month of September (or, maybe October) and something to do with an event that occurred back in 1612 when the Romanov ruling family was put into power. I just stayed inside and studied (what else?), but it was nice to not have to go to class. But, I did not have to study with quite the intensity that I normally would have over a two day weekend since I had three days.

I realized that I have not gone outside since Saturday. The current cottage I am in has the gym in the basement, so I do not have to leave the house to get to the gym. Shep's is in the adjoining basement; so, I do not have to go outside to watch movies with the gang. And, the central gathering place for group dinners is in the adjoining cottage. I can just go through the basement to get there. It was a rather grey day today anyway, so the weather did not inspire me to leave the cottage. As a diversion from studying I made spaghetti for dinner for the folks in town.

Tuesday was one last day of motion control test prep. Two hours with each instructor. My digital loop instructor finally admitted that I was ready for the test. Whew! Now, if I can just hold that knowledge in my brain until Friday. . .

In the afternoon I started a new subject. This one is on the radio location system that is used to guide the Soyuz to the Station. Both the Station and the Soyuz have antennas, transmitters, and receivers and between all of the hardware, the Soyuz is able to lock onto a signal from the Station and figure out which way it needs to go to dock automatically. While the system in general is pretty nifty, the class itself was very much in the weeds of theory and math that I am hoping that I do not really need to know.

My last period of the day was gym time, so that is what I did. In the evening I took a break from studying motion control. My friend, Suni, who spent about seven months on the Space Station this year, came into town. She is here to participate in some debriefs with the Russians as her Russian crewmates just returned to Earth last month. So, we spent some time catching up.

I had more on the radio location system on Wednesday. The class was more weedy theory as well as a little practical information. Then I had my usual Russian fun. At the end of the day I had an admin period scheduled. I took a break and then went back to my motion control books to try and finalize my knowledge. The Shuttle landed tonight, so I also took a short break to watch that. I noticed today that the pond behind the cottages is mostly frozen over. The rest of the snow from this weekend is slowly subliming away, but the sidewalks are still quite slippery.

Thursday I started the rendezvous part of the Soyuz motion control system. The classes I had were very theoretical on how one calculates the size and times of the engine firings to get the Soyuz from the orbit it is in after its launch to a point where you can dock with the Station. However, having had a lot of this type of math and information in school and also knowing how the Shuttle performs a rendezvous and having been around the space business for twenty years, it was all quite familiar to me. So, much to the instructor's surprise, the classes went very quickly as he did not have to spend a lot of time explaining the nitty gritty to me. I will definitely be in trouble if I have to cough up any math on the rendezvous exam, but conceptually the information we covered today was very straight forward. Physics is physics and orbital mechanics is orbital mechanics. The only question is how you implement your equations in your computer. It was kind of fun.

In the afternoon I caught a little break. My Russian training integrator cut a deal with my afternoon's instructor. I was to start a new subject - the panels and composition of two more modules of the Russian side of the Station. But, since I some have familiarity already with the modules and because I will see everything again in other classes, the instructor agreed to let me do self-study for my motion control test. (This test is universally understood among instructors as The Big One). So, self study I did.

But, I had a few interruptions. This afternoon was the official welcome home ceremony for the Expedition 15 crew. It is kind of neat what the Russians do. The crew first puts flowers at the base of the statue of Yuri Gagarin (first person in space). This statue is at one end of the main boulevard in Star City. While they are doing this and doing some photo ops, there is a military band that plays. In my opinion the song that was played was rather dirge-like. I found out later on that this particular composition was created for the funeral of Yuri Gagarin. Because this takes place outside, one of the stray dogs took exception to the band and barked the entire time at the drummer. Or, maybe the dog was singing along. . .

Afterwards, there is sort of a mini-parade. The crew walks a couple hundred yards to an auditorium. The band follows them and plays. At least this time it was a little snappier tune. On one side of the route there are all the instructors and other supporting folks who are in the military in formation. The rest of us and the locals are on the other side of the route. After the crew and band passes everyone joins in the parade. Once at the auditorium, there are the formal speeches and toasts that go with the standard Russian ceremony/party. I did not stay for the speeches. After the parade I returned to my studies.

I have attached a couple pictures. I tried to get more, but my camera was too cold and the battery would not operate. It was about 28 deg F (or something just below freezing - this took place at 4:00, by the way, the warmest part of the day, theoretically). First picture is the band, the statue and the dog (lower right corner). Second is a shot of the front of the building with the auditorium. The sign says "Glory to the Heroes of Space." Pretty nifty, if you ask me.


After the formal affair, we had a "shashlik" party for Suni. This is also a standard Russian thing - basically shashlik is a Russian shish-kebob, i.e., meat on a stick cooked outside over a fire. Quite yummy. I did not go to our party, but I did do a touch-n-go for some of the food. Though, at this point, doing more studying was probably not worth it.

Friday (drum roll, please) was my long awaited and long feared motion control test. From my point of view, it was very ugly. From theirs, well, I did great. How they figured that, I have no idea. Most of the questions seemed to be very weedy operational questions rather than the how-does-the-system-work type of questions. I knew how the system worked and I knew the first layer deep on how to operate with it. But, scheez, I had the hardest time figuring out what the heck they were after with the questions they were asking. Every once in awhile a light bulb would go off and I finally got to where they wanted me to be. But, for me, it was a painful process. It was probably painful for them as well. It was definitely a long hour and a half. But, somehow, they saw fit to give me top marks for both systems. Go figure.

After the test we had a little celebration. The Russian training integrators and other astronauts here clued me in that that was a tradition and that I needed to be prepared with a bottle of vodka or two and some snacks. So, I was. That part was good. Although, vodka at 10:30 in the morning is probably only a good idea if you do not have any other classes later on. Unfortunately, I did have to go to a couple more classes today.

All the instructors were very nice after the test - the old guard guys asked me if they had asked me too many questions. Of course, I am thinking to myself - this is your test, you get to ask me whatever you want. . . The main old guard Soyuz simulator instructor had asked a lot of questions on rendezvous operations that we had never covered in these motion control classes. He said that he only asked me all those questions to prepare me for my upcoming training in the simulator. My old guard analog loop instructor told me that I have all this info in my head and once I get into the simulator I will learn what I really need to know, but I will have my knowledge to call on when needed. And, finally, the old guard digital loop guy gave a toast to my digital loop instructor and said that he had done well with his first foreign student. So, I guess, all in all, old guard was pleased. And, that is all that counts.

Then, I had to sit through a two more radio location system classes. I do not know what it is about comm systems, but, in my opinion, the instructors seem to be the most undynamic instructors of any systems. I do not know if such systems attract such people or if the system turns the people into such instructors, but in the Shuttle world and in the Soyuz world, it is the same. All very nice and very competent people, but rather pedantic. Because I was following the lectures well enough, we were ahead of schedule. So, instead of ending class early, the instructor took the path of since we have more time I will tell you more minutiae even though you do not need to know it. Oi!

Once my classes were finally done, I did nothing but relax. Well, I did spend some time in the gym, but I did not work out too hard. There are currently four astronauts here, including myself and Suni, and we got together for dinner and wine. It was nice. Though, we did stay up rather late yakking.

My weekend was fairly low key. Suni and I went into Moscow on Saturday and spent the day with the lady and family that we both had lived with for our Russian language immersion training. It was a lot of fun. We just sat around and ate and drank tea and talked. It was a very comfortable and relaxing day.

Sunday, I made a weak attempt at studying. I have one more test to go before I leave next Friday. But, admittedly, I could not whip up much enthusiasm for reading the training manuals. I found all kinds of ways to procrastinate. None of them, however, involved going outside. It did not get above freezing at all this week. I would not be surprised if it stayed below freezing until next March or April.

© Shannon Walker   2009

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