Soyuz Training - Russia
September 24 -- 28, 2007

I started a couple new systems on Monday. Well, the first one was sort of new, sort of related. This was the "digital" portion of the motion control system. What this means is that this is the piece of the motion control system that uses the main computer of the Soyuz to conduct its operations. There is a separate computer for the "analog" system (that was the portion of the motion control system that I started last week). I heard my analog loop instructor was out for the next week or so for some reason. So, instead of continuing with the analog system, I am starting the digital system. Whatever. I supposed in the end it will all come together. The instructor for this digital system class is quite young and, apparently, a new instructor. He is very matter of fact, but I think he does a very good job of explaining things, which is good, since this is a very complicated system.

After my motion control class I had my second new subject with a class on what is termed the on-board measurement system. This is the parts and pieces that collect the telemetry on the hardware (and the voice loops within the spacecraft) and either record the information (the "black box") or send it to the ground.

After lunch I had a prep class for my upcoming thermal system test. We went over a few more items and then we called it a day. I got out of class about an hour early. I was scheduled for gym time afterwards. I went, but first I decided I needed to shut my eyes for a little bit. I thought that maybe I would rest about 30 minutes or so. Well, an hour and a half later I finally woke up. I guess I was tired. . .

We had a group dinner tonight. The crew that is launching in October, and their backup crew, has just a few days left in Russia before they all leave for Baikonur for the final fit checks and quarantine. So, we are doing our best to prepare their "favorite dishes" before they go and not be able to eat them on-orbit. I made some grilled pork tenderloin and a chocolate cake for tonight's dinner.

The crew's flight doctor from Houston came into town this weekend and he brought over flu shots for the folks currently in Star City (normally, I would be given one in our clinic in Houston). Because the commander of this expedition is also the "crew medical officer," we let her practice some of her skill on us. We let her give us our flu shots. She did just fine and now, hopefully, I will be able to avoid the flu this season.

Tuesday morning was a good morning. I had two lectures on the digital loop, but actually the entire time was spent in a mini-trainer punching buttons. The mini-trainer is several PC's strung together with each screen emulating a portion of the Soyuz panels where the crew controls the spacecraft. We went over all the things that we talked about in class yesterday as well several new things.

Afternoon was much better than I expected. I had another one of THOSE classes, i.e., a class on the propulsion system. However, today we were in the simulator running through some procedures. So, other than simulator problems, the class was straight forward and everyone was cordial. Whew! But, it is back in the classroom tomorrow. . .

I supplied a cheesecake for dessert tonight.

Wednesday morning I had my thermal control system test. I had studied a lot for it on Sunday as well as last night so I felt prepared. I did well. I had some trouble with some of the questions just because I did not understand what they were driving at and not because I did not understand the system. But, we sorted all through it together and I think everyone was happy in the end. I know I was.

After my test I had my usual Wednesday fun of 4 hours of Russian class. I, once again, admitted up front that I had not had any time to do any Russian studies. I am sure my instructor was not happy, but class went better than the previous week. At least I did not receive any lectures. It was still a long 4 hours, though.

I ended day with another class on the propulsion system. Urgh. I feel like these classes are kind of like Moses in the desert. We wander around the topic for a long time before I get a glimpse of the land of milk and honey. It is painful.

Tonight's fare included a key lime pie by yours truly. I think I have been pegged as the dessert person.

Thursday morning was interesting. Today the crew left for Baikonur and the Russian have a going away "breakfast." What this really means is that there is a standard Russian buffet of cheese, meat, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, vodka, champagne, wine, and water. All the big wheels are there and they make a bunch of toasts. I opted for water as it was 8 in the morning and I had a full day of classes. After the "breakfast" the crew troops outside for some pictures (made underneath a statue of Lenin) and then they get on the bus to head to the airport.

After the morning ceremonies, I had four hours of motion control digital system classes. So far, it still seems all comprehensible. My afternoon was four hours of preparation for the propulsion system test. It was ugly, ugly, ugly. I felt like an idiot because I did not know the system like I would have preferred, but on the other hand, many things I was asked had not been taught and/or they were not in my training manuals. I am just counting the days until this particular training flow is done.

Friday I had a short day. I had one class on the digital motion control system. And, then, I had a final propulsion system preparation class. In the afternoon, I was scheduled for my weekly admin time and my other weekly gym time. I had the schedule arranged like this on purpose because today I bugged out of town. I went to Amsterdam! Andy had some meetings there with the European Space Agency folks this week and we decided to take advantage and spend some time together over the weekend. It was a very nice break from all my classes, to say the least. (Note from Webmaster. . . Andy is Shannon's husband.)

The weather was actually worse in Amsterdam than when I left Moscow (go figure). This past week the "Indian Summer" returned and it has been warm (a relative term, mind you) and sunny in Moscow. It was 50ish and overcast or raining the whole time I was in Amsterdam. But, that didn't matter. We had a great 36 hours together. We rode boats up and down the canals. We walked the city. We ate in good restaurants. We almost made it to the Van Gough Museum, but the line was way too long and we did not feel like standing in it in the rain. So, we opted for some wine and cheese back at the hotel instead.

And, then the weekend was over and I went back to Russia. I had probably the worst time I have ever had at the airport. It took, literally, two and a half hours to get through passport control. That was insane. I think their computer system must have been bogged down or something. I could not tell any other reason as to why it was taking so long. After that, there was a huge traffic jam leaving the airport. I got back to my cottage at 10:00 pm. So much for spending the evening doing some studying. By the time I got back, all I did was have a snack and go to bed.

© Shannon Walker   2009

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