Soyuz Training - Russia
September 10 -- 14, 2007

I had a full day of classes on Monday. I started off with a class on the parts and pieces of the system that is used to monitor and equalize the pressures between the hatches before you open them. After a docking, you first check to make sure that everything is sealed properly. Obviously you do not want to open a hatch if your atmosphere is going to leak overboard. Once you decide everything is all right, you pressurize the compartment between the Soyuz hatch and the Station hatch. Again you check for leaks and if there are none, then you can open the hatches and go across to the other side.

After that I had a hands-on class on the survival kit items. I did not get to shoot off any flares or fire the gun, but I did get to play with just about everything else. I even got to taste some of the survival rations. Some of the food was not too bad and some of it tasted like it had been sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere since WWII.

After lunch was a fun yet difficult class. It was a life support systems practice session in the Soyuz simulator in the launch and entry suit. On the Shuttle, you have people that help you get into your suit and help you get into the shuttle. On the Soyuz, you are pretty much on your own. I do not know if anyone helps you into your suit, but you get into the Soyuz all by yourself. So, today I got a taste of what it was like to find all my connection hoses and hook them up and find all my restraint belts and hook them up. It is not easy as there is not a lot of room to maneuver. After I was all strapped in, we ran through some of the procedures that you will do normally before a launch - a leak check of the suits, turning on equipment, etc. Then we ran through some off-nominal scenarios - what you do when there is a depressurization or if there is not enough oxygen in the spacecraft and the like.    
        Russian Space Suit & Soyuz Seat

    The way this practice session went was that my regular life support instructor was in a different room playing the part of "the ground." That meant he was giving me instructions over my comm headset. The suit instructor sat in the right seat in the Soyuz in order to operate some of the valves that needed to be operated that I would not normally move and that I would not be able to reach from my left seat. And, the interpreter was sitting in the middle/commander's seat. I was the only one in a suit. It was very interesting not just because I was doing things in a suit in a Soyuz, but because it was my first chance to see what it would really be like. My arms are very short (or, the seat is far enough away from the control panel), so I cannot reach the buttons I need to push very easily but, there is a pointer-like rod that I can use to reach everything. And, with the helmet, it is hard to see everything I need to see. And, it is hard to process the Russian coming to me over the comm system. But, it was a really good exercise to watch the data I needed to watch, to hear the warning sounds and see the warning lights when there were simulated problems, and methodically go through the steps that needed to be gone through.

My last class of the day was a structures and mechanisms class. This was a subject that I started the first week I was here. I think I am going to finish up this subject this week.

I started my life support systems test preparation classes on Tuesday. The first lecture of the day was a "seminar." So, that was two hours of me being asked questions about all the different parts on subtleties of the system - the oxygen delivery system, the carbon dioxide removal system, the food, the toilet, the space suits, etc. The life support system is not complicated, but there are a lot of different parts to it. And, just like in the docking system review, the key is figuring out what they are actually asking for in their questions - a general answer or a particular answer. Luckily I had a very good study session Monday night, and so I was prepared for the onslaught of questions.

Next I had a practice session in the Soyuz on the interface leak check system. We ran through all the procedures that can be done - checking for leaks and pressurizing or depressurizing various compartments. After lunch I had my "consultation" the interface leak check system. But, since we had just gone over the system right before lunch, there was not much else to discuss. So, we decided to cancel the class so I could use the time as "self-study" in prep for my life support systems test.

The rest of the work day was scheduled to be gym time, so I had a good workout with weights. After dinner I studied (of course - what else?). I actually was as pretty tired, so called it an early night. Well, reasonably early, that meant I stopped studying about 11p rather than my usual midnight.

Wednesday started off pretty good since I had had a very good night's sleep. I had my "consultation" for my life support class. This was more questions and answers. Since, the instructor already knew that I knew the system pretty well, we got into some of the weeds, but it was fun. I may not have pretty answers, but I certainly understand this system.

Unfortunately, after the life support Q&A I had two sessions (i.e., four hours) of Russian language. That just sucked the life out of me. The first class went well, but after lunch, my brain just stopped. Everyone says that you will have "good Russian days" and "bad Russian days." I will put this one in the bad Russian days column. Oh well, what can you do?

Lastly I had another structures class. I think I am done with the lecture part of the class. Maybe. Tough to say. My evening was a final prep for my test, of course.

Thursday morning was my test. I think it went very well. The test committee for this test was comprised of my life support systems instructor, my suit instructor, my survival kit instructor, my docking systems instructor, the life support hardware owner, and some guy in a military uniform. There were also two people sitting in the back of the room who did not ask any questions. It was quite a crowd. This was actually a fun test. My instructors already knew that I knew the material from the prep classes. So, they were clearly on my side and never asked any questions that were too in the weeds.

At times it got rather silly. The instructors were clearly relaxed. One of them painted the scenario of that we just got on orbit and out of our suits and our underwear is wet - what do I do. I knew the question was really getting at the procedures on drying out your space suit. So, I went through all of that. Then he got a grin on his face and asked what I would do about my underwear (knowing that this is not really part of the standard life support info.) So, I told him that I would hang my underwear out of the window to dry. They all thought that was pretty funny. The test took about an hour and a half.

After the test was done I started two new subjects - the thermal control system and the propulsion system (the engines that you use to maneuver in space). I had one class on each system. Next I was scheduled for gym time. But, instead of going to the gym, I prepared dinner for the gang. Late last week, I claimed this day for dinner. Since my test was scheduled for the morning and I was starting new subjects, I knew that I was not going to have to study that much this evening. So, I used my gym time to get everything ready. I made lasagna, salad and a chocolate cake. One of THOSE chocolate cakes. Everyone raved about it. The woman who is the commander of the next Station increment and who is scheduled to go up on the next Soyuz flight in mid-October is in Russia now doing her final training. She is a very good cook and provides many of the group dinners. She asked me to make her one of these cakes before she leaves for Kazakhstan and quarantine in two weeks. That is truly a compliment.

On Friday I only had three classes - one on the thermal system and two on the propulsion system. The thermal systems class was very good and the propulsion systems classes were a very long four hours. Unfortunately, the instructor for this subject is not turning out to be one of the better instructors. Oh well. The last period of the day I was scheduled for admin time. But, since I had skipped the gym on Thursday, I used that time to work out. Then we had a group dinner and we watched a movie.

Saturday we had our weekly pilgrimage to the grocery store and then some of us went gift shopping. There is a particular market on the outskirts of Moscow where a lot of the tourists go to buy Russian trinkets and crafts. I did not need anything, but I went along to have something to do and to get out of the cottage for awhile. Afterwards it was a nap, a workout, dinner, and another movie. Not a bad Saturday.

Sunday was a big study day. Well, a big study and nap day. The weather was just perfect nap weather. And, for whatever reason, no matter how much sleep I get at night, I never feel one hundred percent rested. I have not figured out why that is. I do not have any tests this week, but I am starting a couple new subjects, one of which is considered the most difficult system of the Soyuz - the motion control system. So, I figured it would do me well if I stayed ahead of the reading for the upcoming week.

Weather report - 40's and 50's with drizzle most of the day. One morning I woke up and it was 36 degrees F. Bleah. Not really good weather for anything other than studying and naps.

© Shannon Walker   2009

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