Three Million Miles in Ten Days
Floating off to sleep, Earthgazing, making sure the capsule doesn't depressurize: all standard on a space vacation.
- By Gregory Olsen
- AirSpaceMag.com, October 22, 2010
NASA / Courtesy Gregory Olsen
(Page 3 of 4)
Waking up was just as enjoyable as going to sleep. You open your eyes and realize that you are floating. I usually arose around 6 a.m., before anyone else, and went right over to the window. I would just stare out at Earth and, aided by a world map, try to figure exactly where we were. Occasionally I’d take photographs. That quiet time, all by myself, was extremely relaxing and peaceful. Sometimes being alone can be its own reward.
I did have a lot of free time on board, but I was never bored. I kept busy with the medical and scientific experiments I’d agreed to perform for the European Space Agency. I also had fun communicating with the students at Princeton University, and with the high school kids at Ridgefield Park High in New Jersey and Fort Hamilton High in Brooklyn.
During those 10 days, without ever really being conscious of speed, I traveled a nearly unbelievable distance, at least when viewed from the perspective of Earth. Soyuz and the ISS circled our planet over 150 times, making a complete orbit approximately every 90 minutes. The orbits covered a total of over 3,000,000 miles.
And then it was time to leave. Bill and Valeri were on the ISS to relieve an astronaut and a cosmonaut who had completed their tour of duty, so I was going back to Earth with cosmonaut Sergey Krikalev, who had already spent over six months in the weightlessness of the ISS. During my stay he set the world record for total days in space: 803 days. NASA astronaut John Phillips was the other returnee.
As commander of the return mission, Krikalev had to deal with a lot of anxiety the night before our return to earth. The Soyuz must be packed very carefully since the center of mass actually affects where the capsule lands.
We also had very little room to spare. During launch the vehicle has three sections, so there’s some extra space. But the descending Soyuz is missing two thirds of that volume, and space is at a premium. Krikalev carefully balanced the vehicle, with much communication from the ground. All I could do was watch.
One issue arose around me and my medicines. The Russians had insisted that I take “Spiriva,” which is an inhaler to aid lung capacity for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). This was packed in a container about the size of two books—not a lot of volume on earth, but a considerable size on Soyuz.
Ground control was insisting that it be included in the descending payload and the commander was having trouble finding room for it. We’re talking about the kind of space you find under a car seat, in an economy car! I kept telling him that it really wasn't necessary but the people on the ground kept insisting that it was. I was embarrassed that so much time was being spent on my behalf on such an insignificant issue. Finally, I suggested that I keep enough in my spacesuit for the descent and landing (it was only three hours for Chrissake! The inhaler was once a day). They agreed—problem solved. I think they were worried that if we had an emergency landing and were stranded for awhile, I would need my medicine. I’m glad that reason prevailed here. In fact, it was no big deal even if I didn't have that inhaler for several days.