The Beginning
June 14 - 25

I know folks have been wondering what I have been up to since reporting for duty last week. I finally have a few minutes to catch my breath and let you know what we did last week and what we have going on this week.

Last week started with all the folks who weren't already working for the government doing all the paper processing that comes with starting a new job. Obviously, I didn't have to do that. Our Japanese colleagues (3 Japanese astronauts (2 male, 1 female) are going to be training with us) also reported for duty in Houston last Monday. They needed to get flight suits and since I didn't have any paperwork that needed doing, I went with them out to Ellington Field while they picked up their gear. That was the first time I had met any of them.

Monday afternoon consisted of a swearing in ceremony for the new civil servants (new civil servants take an oath). The rest of us were on stage with them. The ceremony took place in the old Mission Control Center and there was lots of press in attendance. Following the ceremony, we had field day with the press (or, they had a field day with us, depending on your point of view). We did what is called a round robin - each press member is set up in a different room and we rotate from reporter to reporter every 10 minutes or so. This was also the time that the news stations and radio stations did their interviews and got the footage that some of you have seen/heard bits and pieces of.

Tuesday wasn't a very busy day for me in the morning. I spent the time trying to get my new laptop up and running the way I wanted and trying to do some organizing in my new office. The afternoon consisted of our initial swim test. They do a swim test to ensure that we aren't going to drown once we start water survival training. This particular test consisted of a 75 meter swim in a bathing suit followed by a 75 meter swim in a flight suit and tennis shoes. Finally we had to tread water for 10 minutes with our flight suit and shoes on. I didn't have any problems whatsoever. I am such a floater that I didn't see any effect from wearing a flight suit or shoes. In fact, during the water treading time, I was able to just lie back and float (literally). I could have gone to sleep if I wanted. My classmates seemed to be working a little bit harder. But, no one had any issues and we all passed the swim test with flying colors.

On Wednesday we spent most of the day participating in a teacher's conference. As most folks may recall, NASA has hired 3 "educator astronauts" as part of our class. NASA is really making a concerted effort to reach out to schools and schoolchildren to try and spark the desire in them to study math, science, technology or engineering. Our class figures quite prominently into that plan - and not just the educator astronauts. All of us are part of the plan. As a side note here, the standard protocol for new astronauts is a complete ban on public meetings/speeches/interviews/whatever. They want the new folks to be able to concentrate on learning all the varied information and skills unpressured by public appearances. However, since we are part of the education plan, our class isn't quite following the standard. We are not going to be approved to make any individual appearances (so, for anyone that may ask - we aren't allowed for the next 18 months or so), but, we are going to have specific education related media events and outreach appearances for specific education related activities. This teacher's conference was one such event. NASA brought to JSC all the "highly qualified" teachers that applied to the astronaut program (roughly 197 in this category, 165 at the conference). This group was all the teachers that passed the teacher screening process and whose applications were sent on to JSC for the regular astronaut selection process - so, some of the folks had been interviewed and some had not.

At any rate, in the morning the NASA education big wheels talked about the education plans (how NASA wants to work with the teachers, what resources and materials are available, etc). As part of an ice breaking event, we were broken into groups and did a "make a space suit out of toilet paper project." Not quite the standard engineering process that I was used to, but very interesting to watch the teachers at work and go through their thought processes of doing these types of projects with kids.

We did a question and answer session. The teachers really like to hear about how long it took me to get selected. I had a huge number of them tell me that they were going to use me in their classrooms as an example of perseverance. In the afternoon we got into our flight suits and attended a VIP reception with/for the teachers. Lots of handshaking. Lots of autographs. Lots of having one's picture taken. Great fun. No dinner - can't shake hands and take photos with one's mouth full.... That night we went with the teachers to attend a briefing by Mike Foale - his brief to the JSC workers on his time on the Space Station (he was there from last Oct to April). Long day.

Thursday morning we spent more time with the teachers in various activities. No more toilet paper projects, but did do some good braining storming on what the teachers want from NASA. I think a lot is going to come from this NASA/teacher collaboration. They had various activities all afternoon and into the evening, but we were turned loose to do other things.

Friday we had the day off to start packing up for our trip to Pensacola, which is where I am now. We are here to do water survival training and to do some flight training. This week is mostly water survival training. Why do we do this? Well, if we ever have to bail out over water from the T-38 jets that astronauts fly (or bail out of the Shuttle over water), we will know how to survive the bail out and subsequent waiting to be rescued.

So, this morning started bright an early with our first classroom briefing at 0630. We learned about signal devices ' both active (radios and flares) and passive (mirrors, blankets, dye that goes in the water). We had a brief on life rafts, both single person and multi person as well as what goes into the survival gear packs (and what to do with it). And we had a brief on extended sea survival. I am sure that you will be happy to know that all birds are edible, but one should avoid the head, intestines, and feet. Then we got to go outside and shoot off a couple different types of flares. That was fun.

We then suited up in some of the Navy flight suits, boots, gloves, helmet, and flight harnesses and went out to practice getting into life rafts. They attached both single person and multi person rafts to some buoys, we jumped off a dock into deep water and had to swim out to the rafts with our buddy and board them. My floating skills came in handy again. Even with all the gear on, I was able to very easily swim over to the rafts (probably 20 or 30 yards away). So, if I ever have to bail out over the water, you can rest assured that I won't drown. However, the sharks may get me, assuming I don't get them first...

And, then we had lunch (no birds). The afternoon consisted of training on ejection seats. We had briefs on the equipment and how to do a proper ejection. We then got to go play (I mean practice) on a wonderful piece of equipment. We got strapped into an ejection seat on a set of rails and we got to eject. We didn't go as high or eject with as much force as a real ejection, but we did get a good boost - we probably went about 20 feet or more up the rails. Quite a kick in the pants. And, that was all for today.

The rest of the week will consist of aviation physiology briefs followed by a low pressure chamber run (they will take us to a simulated 25,000 feet, remove our oxygen masks and watch us act goofy). Wednesday will be more water operations. We will be taught various techniques of getting out of various situations in water - being rescued by a helicopter (simulated in a pool with lots of jets spraying up froth); escaping from a dumped over and submerged helicopter; and other such fun. I think we also get to do some special disorientation things. At some point they will be spinning us around making us dizzy so we know that we really can't depend on our eyes at all times. More water fun on Thursday and Friday will be parachute operations. Unfortunately, someone in past years got injured during some of this, so we don't get to do any parasailing to get a real feel for a parachute. Darn. But, apparently there is a pretty nifty virtual reality parachute trainer. Don't know much about what else will be going on that day. I reckon I'll find out more later in the week.

Next week we start T-34 flight training. It will be the usual plan of attack - ground school followed by simulator training followed by flights in the aircraft. We will get approximately 12 flights/24 hours of aircraft flying. No take-off or landings (officially), but plenty of boring holes in the sky. We will do the T-34 training until the end of July.

And, that is what I have been up to so far.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 07-25-04