Bad Day in Space

Patience and frustration on the ISS

Anderson working inside the station's Destiny laboratory in 2007. (NASA)
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At first, I blew them off. I told myself I was strong enough to overcome the insensitivity of their remarks. Just let it go, I thought. They’re just venting.

But I couldn’t let it go. It festered inside me like a bad order of sushi.

“Who the hell do they think they are?” I thought. “I’m the guy living here. Who has a better understanding of the best way to do things than me?”

For two days I struggled. I now knew how some of the Skylab 3 astronauts felt. Having read Robert Zimmerman’s Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel in 2004, I knew of the Skylab crews’ difficulties with the ground control team. Like those astronauts, I felt a growing undercurrent of tension between the ground and me. I was depressed and upset with how I was being treated. I quit talking to the ground. If I was required to speak with them, it was short and to the point—very unlike me.

I did not share my situation with my crewmates. I’m sure they knew something was going on, but I couldn’t open up to them. In what may have been a totally incorrect assumption on my part, I felt that as Russians, they would interpret my emotional swings as a sign of weakness.

Fyodor, receiving backdoor information about the situation from flight controllers in Russia, offered some simple yet sound advice. “Clay, remember,” he would say with a mischievous grin, “smile and patience.”....

….Another time, on a normal day of station operations. I was headed for the Unity node to remove one of the module’s panels and perform a straightforward task behind its wall. Removing the panel had to wait while I moved numerous bags of equipment and supplies that were bungeed to its outer surface. (In a place desperate for storage space, Unity’s other role was as an “open-air” closet.)

I quickly moved the bags one by one away from the panel and secured them within an empty space, or “hole,” on the deck of the node where a rack had once been. Once the bags were secure, I began the tedious but simple process of removing each and every one of the forty-four captive fasteners that held the panel firmly in place.

With the work area completely exposed, it was easy to move in and execute the task. The node was full of environmental control equipment ranging from fans to valves, but the job was easy and quickly performed. I spent most of my time exposing the parts to be worked on and then covering them up once again.

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