Soyuz Training - Russia
September 17 -- 21, 2007


This week was a lot more difficult that I expected it to be based on my schedule. I did not have any tests scheduled this week, which should have meant that my evenings were not quite so pressured for me to hit the books the entire time. But, somehow it did not turn out that way. And, my classes were wearing. Well, not all of them - some of them were very good, but some of them were quite wearing and those just sucked all my energy. I have been told by those who have been through this type of training in the past, that there are a lot of emotional highs and lows when in Russia. I do not know if it is the weather, the daily schedule, the fact that I am just not at home, or something else, but it does seem to me that it takes more energy to get through a day here than it would to get through a comparable day in Houston. I never feel like I am operating at one hundred percent. It is strange.

At least Monday started off with some good lectures. I had two thermal control systems classes. The instructor for this system is very, very good. After lunch, I started a new topic with a lecture on what is termed optical devices. There a handful of optical devices that the crew will use during the course of a flight to or from the station. The main one is basically a periscope. This device can either look perpendicular to the spacecraft, which allows the crew to use it to get in the right orientation with respect to the Earth. Or, it can look along the spacecraft as an aid for when you are docking with the Station - you line it up with a target on the Station. The other devices are all back up items, such as a laser range finder, to assist with docking should the main systems fail. Think I am now done with all the thermal system lectures, the rest of my classes are either practical sessions or test preparation.

It is interesting; in the thermal control classes I can understand about ninety percent of what the instructor is saying because he speaks clearly, so I can pick out the words I know. Or, I can figure it out even if I don't know the words because he is animated. So, with his gestures so I can follow when some value is rising or falling. But, in the optical devices class I basically understood nothing. I clearly am not familiar with the technical terms associated with these devices. But, also, the instructor is not very animated in speech or gesture, so I have a hard time picking out the few words I know. My last session of the day was admin time.

Tuesday started with a thermal control practical session. We had a very thorough going through of all the indications to and operations by the crew. I quite enjoyed the class. Afterwards, it was another new subject - I started the motion control system. This is supposed to be the most difficult subject as it not only has a lot of information, but it deals with all the calculations that are made in order to move the Soyuz to where you want it to go - how you change your orbit, how you rendezvous with the Station, how you do your deorbit burn, etc. Actually, there are several parts to this topic. There is a part associated with the main computer of the Soyuz, the "digital loop." There is a part associated with the components used should be main computer fail, the "analog loop." And, there are parts associated with the rendezvous phase of flight and parts associated with the descent phase. My classes this week are on the analog loop. Then, as I understand things, after certain number of classes, I will start classes on the digital loop. Apparently there will be one test that will cover both loops, but I will get two grades, one for each loop. That will be an enormous amount of material on that test.

In the afternoon I had a practical session in the simulator on the optical devices. There was not that much to go over, as the devises are fairly straight forward. But, I did get to try flying the Soyuz a bit. Unfortunately, I was given no practical information on how to actually fly, so I managed to drive the Soyuz through the Station. Good thing it is just computer generated scenes. . . No real harm done.

The rest of my day was a nap, some time at the gym with weights, and an evening of studying.

Wednesday was a long, long, long day. I had a couple of classes on the propulsion system. This is a subject that I started at the end of the week last week. About the only thing I can say is that I do not see eye-to-eye with my instructor. It is the classes for this system that made this week so hard. That and my Russian classes, which I also had today.

Unfortunately, because of my test last week and the fact that I started four new subjects which meant a lot of reading, I did not get all my Russian homework done. Nor did I get to study my new words very much. So, admittedly, I was not very well prepared. I explained this to my teacher at the beginning of class and she seemed to understand. However, after lunch, when we went over some of my written homework and I had some mistakes in it, I was lectured pretty severely. The way I see things, given all the systems tests I have, I need to put my study emphasis on learning the systems and learning the Russian terminology. Once I start doing simulations, I will have to put an emphasis on communicating. So, on the one hand, my teacher is right in that my language skills are vital to my success in the Soyuz. But, on the other hand, there are only so many hours in the day and I am going to use about a third of them sleeping. Because I was feeling so worn down, I just did not have the wherewithal to take the lecture. It was rather upsetting.

And, finally, at the end of the day I found out that instead of what I thought was going to be a different instructor for a lecture on Thursday on the jets used during entry, I was going to have another propulsion system class with the same instructor. I was so down. But, the gang got together for dinner and that helped my disposition a lot. A little wine and a little whine. . . This was definitely a low day.

Thursday morning was filled with four hours of lecture on the analog loop of the motion control system. So far, so good. The class was not too difficult (yet), but it certainly was a lot of information. After lunch I had my propulsion system class. It was really getting on my nerves. I cannot tell if I have a cultural issue or if the instructor is just grumpy, but I will definitely be happy when this subject training flow is over. As best as I can tell, I have more of the same tomorrow. Sigh. The rest of the day was gym time and study time.

Friday morning was another four hours of analog loop. I was doing great up until about the last thirty minutes. Then my brain was apparently full. Because I do not have all the acronyms down cold, sometimes I could not tell if we were talking about a computing box or an attitude of the spacecraft. Needless to say, that made things a little confusing. Ah, well, I will try and catch up on the weekend.

After lunch I was tortured with another two hours of the propulsion system. It was frustrating. And, I did not appreciate being lectured because I had not read something that I was not told I needed to read and was not part of the subject matter of the class at hand. Eh, what can you do? Lastly, I had a session in the simulator going over off-nominal situations regarding the thermal control system. That was a breath of fresh air.

Friday night we had our typical group dinner and movie.

On Saturday I decided to take a break from studying. I went into Moscow with the athletic trainer that is here working with the crew that is to launch in a couple weeks. Since he has spent virtually no time in the city, I played tour guide and we spent the entire day just walking around looking at the sights. In the evening we met up with the rest of the gang at a very nice (and expensive) steak house. That meal definitely hit the spot.

It was back to the books on Sunday.

Weather report: We had what the Russians translate to us as an Indian summer. In the Russian lore, of course, it is a bit different. For them, the story is that this is a warm spell for an ordinary farm lady. She apparently worked hard all summer doing her harvesting and by the time the harvest was over, the summer was over. However, after the first cold spell there were a few warm days again and she finally got to enjoy some summer. Or, something like that.

What it meant this week is that we had about 36 hours of non-rainy, non-fifty degree weather. I think it actually got back up into the sixties for a short time. I probably should explain that the buildings in Russia are heated via central heat from the city. Until the city turns on the heat, there is no heat, unless you have a space heater (which we have in our cottages in addition to central heat). So, because it has been in the fifties for the last couple of weeks, the buildings are pretty durn chilly. Let us just say that you do not bother to take your jacket off when you are inside. The Indian summer was nice while it lasted, but it did not do anything to warm up the buildings. By the end of the day, I usually cannot feel my feet. . . I am sure that my being cold all day is a significant contributor to my feeling low on energy.


© Shannon Walker   2009

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