Soyuz Training - Russia
October 15 -- 19, 2007

Well, I managed to come down with something during the night Sunday night. I woke up Monday with a sore throat and feeling puny. So, I cancelled my morning classes and went back to sleep, hoping to nip whatever it was in the bud. By the time my afternoon classes rolled around, I was feeling better, not great, but better. I was glad that I was able to do go to my afternoon classes since I was scheduled for four hours in the simulator running motion control procedures. Trying to reschedule such a large block of simulator time is't easy. It actually turned out to be quite a good class. It definitely helped solidify what we have been talking about for so many weeks. The classes that I missed this morning were rescheduled to be during my gym and admin time later this week.

All the Russians were very concerned about me and clucking over me like mother hens. It was sweet. Even one of the drivers who works for NASA and who also acts as our resident handyman came by this evening to make sure my cottage was warm enough.

I spent my evening spent laying low and trying to get healthy. I did a little studying, but pretty much called it an early night.

Tuesday I was still feeling under the weather and I had definite heat issues, namely, there still is not any in the classrooms. Obviously, that is not good for trying to recover from being sick. My management is trying to work something out with the Russians so that I can at least have portable heaters in my classrooms to take the chill off. My morning was four hours of motion control. We are still packing in the knowledge.

In the afternoon I had my first test prep class for my test on Thursday. This test is going to be over the onboard complex control system (I had classes on this subject at the very beginning of this trip) and "panels." The classroom was very, very cold. Luckily, the class ended early. And then I had another class on the Service Module composition. This class was also cold. By the end of the day, I was pretty well worn out because of being so chilly in the afternoon. I had to sleep awhile to recover. Mind you, it is not as if I am wearing tank tops and flip-flops to class. My usual outfit is something along the lines of a shirt, a sweater, pants, long johns under my pants, two pairs of socks (one of which are my "smart wool" thick camping socks) and my jacket. Unfortunately, being cold is definitely affecting my ability to get well. And, being under the weather is affecting my ability to study. Not good.

On Wednesday it seemed as thought that they have finally turned on the heat in some of the rooms in the building that I have most of my classes. Other rooms are still having their radiators replaced. So, my first class of the day was a bit warmer - definitely not toasty, but not freezing. Though, I still wore my jacket the whole time. This class was the final prep class for my test tomorrow. The classroom where my Russian lesson was to be held had no heat (or radiators), so I ended up having my lesson in my cottage. Then, it was back to the training building for my last lesson. It was in a different room and this room was a bit warmer than the other room - not shirt-sleeve weather, but I did not have wear my jacket the entire time.

I am still slowly recovering from whatever illness that I have. I hit the books in the evening and then hit the sack early to try and get a good night's sleep.

My test was first thing in the morning. It was definitely not my best showing. Someone, presumably a wrong number, called one of the phone lines in the cottage at 6:00 a.m. I stumbled out of bed to answer the phone, but no one replied. They called back about 15 minutes later. I just let the phone ring at that point, but I never did manage to get back to sleep. So, I was rather tired and not feeling well at all. My test ended up being in a cold room, which was not good either. Surprisingly, no one from the designer world showed up for the test. So it was just my instructors asking questions. One of them asked a lot of really detailed questions on things that we never discussed. I have to admit that I struggled with some of the questions, but we muddled through. The other instructor, thankfully, did not ask anything too difficult. In the end, I think that they could tell that I just was not myself. So, they wrapped things up, probably took pity on me, and said that I did just fine.

The rest of my day was motion control and more motion control, with a small break from that with a television systems class. It was the make up class from Monday.

Friday, you guessed it, I had four more hours of motion control lectures. We mostly reviewed things and that was good. The gargantuan test for this subject is marching ever closer. Actually, I think I have had my last lecture in this subcategory of the motion control system. I still have the "analog" side to finish, and the test prep reviews, but I think (I hope) we have gone through all the material for the digital side of the house. In the last couple of days we have covered about a bazillion different algorithms that the software uses to monitor various things - how the maneuvers are going, how the equipment is operating, etc. Needless to say, it is a lot to remember.

My last class of the week was a test prep class on the comm system. I was supposed to have a test prep class on the television system as well, but it turned out that my instructor had to do military duty. So he was unavailable and my last class was cancelled. That was just fine with me. I did not mind at all having a free period at the end of this week.

I used my free time to move my things to a different cottage. We have some folks coming in for training this weekend and they normally stay in the cottage that I had been staying in. The whole issue of who stays where when is a delicate dance that I am glad that I do not have to sort out. For the most part, they try and have us stay in the same cottage and bedroom for consistency. Traveling back and forth can be hard enough without feeling like you are a hobo the whole time you are here. Being the low person on the training totem pole, I will be doing any moving required to accommodate those that are closer to their flight. I moved into the cottage/bedroom which had been previously occupied by the lady that just launched on the Soyuz. Obviously, she will not be around here for the next six months, so, perhaps, I will be able to stay put for the time being.

My weekend was fairly low key. I did not do much of anything on Saturday. We had our usual grocery store run and that is always good for taking up a couple of hours. The rest of the day I pretended to study, but I was not too motivated. We had a group dinner and we watched a movie. Sunday was my usual catch up on sleep and study day. And, thankfully, I finally started feeling like my old self on Sunday.

The returning Soyuz crew landed on Sunday. I was able to watch it on NASA TV. They ended up having a slightly off-nominal entry. For some reason the capsule went into what is called ballistic mode. It is not clear why just yet. But, basically, if the computer detects any off-nominal indications from the sensors feeding it data, then it will downgrade the entry to ballistic. What happens is that instead of having a "nice, gentle" entry through the atmosphere, the capsule starts to spin. The spinning makes it very stable coming through the atmosphere. Basically, the computer says that it is not going to listen to the sensors anymore, and, thus, the capsule spins so the computer does not have to try to keep the capsule on track. In the ballistic case, the trajectory in which the capsule comes through the atmosphere is slightly steeper than the nominal case. So, the crew actually ends up experiencing eight or nine g's rather than the nominal three or four. Even though it is a very safe entry, it is definitely not quite as much fun after you have been on-orbit for six months. Because this is a "nominal" "off-nominal" situation, the Russians have backup helicopters and doctors to meet the crew at the ballistic landing site. It is the equivalent of the Shuttle landing in California instead of Florida.

Once the crew is out of the capsule (for either a nominal entry or a ballistic one) the doctors look them over and then they are flown back to Star City. They usually arrive back in Star City about eight hours after they land. It is a pretty amazing process considering that they land out of the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan. The crew is put into quarantine since the doctors want to keep checking on them and the doctors collect their usual data and specimens. The building where the crew stays in quarantine is right next to the NASA cottages. In fact, our flight doctors live in that same building.

When the crew gets back to Star City there is a very brief celebration. The crew arrives on a bus. As it pulls up to the quarantine building, a small military band plays a tune, the crew is greeted with flowers, people clap, and then the crew is whisked off inside. Currently there are only about half a dozen folks from NASA in Star City. But we all went out and cheered their arrival. They were looking pretty good for having just been in space for six months. I hope I look as good if I have that ride back.

© Shannon Walker   2009

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