Mark Shuttleworth - February 05, 2002: Designer Space Suits - This morning got off to a slightly rocky start, with the left brain still being on Houston time while the right brain had moved over to Frankfurt. Unfortunately Denis the training manager has insisted that Moscow training happen on Moscow time. So getting all faculties present and accounted for early on was a little challenging, to say the least. At 4am I was wide awake (and later learned that Roberto was too). Or at least, my eyes were firmly open even if the optic nerve wasn't taking the data anywhere useful. Hopefully tomorrow will be better, although it took nearly the whole week to get to Houston time last week and may take the same to get back.
Anyway, we got off to a humorous start with space suits. Not the "float around and breathe pure oxygen while looking like a lost scuba diver from Mars" type, nor the "glass helmet that looks like an IBM advert" type, but the distinctly less sexy "luminous blue/green cosmonaut gym suit" type. These are the clothes we wear on the station and during the soyuz flight. These are very special clothes. They are 100% cotton, specially treated. They are produced in a way that ensures a minimal amount of fluff and fuzz floating around on the station. Over 15 years you can accumulate a lot of fluff on a station. They have passed rigorous tests for fire safety. They have passed rigorous tests for absorbtion and adhesion and probably even underwear creep. They have passed a LOT of tests.
Unfortunately, they passed these tests in the 1960's, in the Soviet Union, before S*viet became a designer label. Waaayyyy before. And due to lack of funds or interest, they have never been updated. If it ain't broke don't fix it, I guess. They may have been a fashion statement back then, at least in the Soviet Union, but now they look about as cool (or as useful) as spandex Star Trek suits when Captain Kirk was still Captain Kirk and not The Big Head. I suppose they may be cool in a very retro sense. Makes you think how fast technology and style move, even in workout clothes. Modern gym clothing uses pretty advanced fabric technology to be light and effective at transporting sweat away from the body etc. There are whispered rumours about 'unofficial' clothes that are basically off-the-shelf cotton gym stuff, but we didn't see that today. No, Roberto and I walked into the lecture to find all the lumo cosmonaut kit arranged in the room like a museum. Or the dressing room of a revival of austin powers set in a gym.
Actually, the stuff does look pretty comfortable. I think we'll get to try it on later in the week. Then we choose which of the styles and colors we prefer (erm, there's a very limited selection, all lumo) and they pack it up for us.
I think we urgently need to get some SA designer talent going on the space clothing issue. How about 'Errol Arendse and Sports Science Institute Do Cosmo-Clothes'. Roberto apparently has a Benetton experiment along these lines in the pipeline. Maybe we can collaborate.
Next, we got the wet wipes lecture. There are a whole variety of wipes, towels, pads, scrapers, goodies and gadgets for personal hygiene up there. No showers or baths on the station. Apparently you get used to it eventually. I can go into more detail if anybody wants. Of course, there is a complete set of NASA wipes, towels, etc, each of which has an acronym (the PDB-140R isn't one, but it could be) and a set of policies about usage, storage and disposal. There is also a complete, and different, set of Russian wipes, towels, etc, each of which ALSO has an acronym and an associated set of procedures. Really. Apparently there is a committee meeting to simplify this situation, so that there will only be one set of towels, acronyms and procedures. It's anybody's guess how long that will take. Other than the towels, there are razors, toothbrushes, shampoo, dental floss, and other bits and pieces. We're going to try to take up an electric razor to save time.
Then it was time for another food tasting session. Again, there are about 80 different NASA items, and 80 different Russian items on the menu. The ISS crew is supposed to alternate between days when they have Russian breakfasts and lunches with American dinners, and days when they have American breakfasts and lunches with Russian dinners. We have four tasting sessions to work our way through the Russian items and identify the likes and dislikes for our crew. This time we were tasting chicken and meat main courses, and some stew type things. Very, very nice. Seriously. All the chicken numbers scored an 8 or 9 (out of nine) for me. Spicy beef and tasty lamb all did well too. Way higher than the jellied perch we were trying last time. Or maybe I was just hungry this time. They ask us to rank each item 1-9, where 5 is neutral. Anything you rate as neutral won't be packed for you - although that's largely academic because the crews don't stick to the pre-set meal plan. In fact, our instructor proudly told us that the visiting crews far prefer the Russian food... having had some of it I can say that it's very tasty indeed. Am looking forward to trying the NASA fare.
During all of this the Star City admin dropped another bombshell on us by saying that Karen had been vetoed from the zero-g flight AGAIN. See our previous log on the subject. We had discussed this at length the last time the issue arose, and had thought everything was agreed, and that all that was required was a doctors cert from our flight surgeon saying that all was fine for Karen's participation for baseline data collection during the weightlessness. It's pretty infuriating to hear on the day before the event that 'you don't need that data for your experiment' - from someone who doesn't know what the experiment is! Anyhow, we finally talked things through, and they did work hard to try to accomodate us within their framework. But I don't think Karen will fly tomorrow - even though we now have permission for it to happen from the top general, we will try to get the baseline data without her and figure out what to do next if that fails. The doctors here are extremely experienced and also incredibly cautious (they wanted to bump me from another zero-g flight for having a slight sniff - even though it just came from walking in minus 15 degree air). They know exactly what they are doing, and it's often amazed me how spot-on they can be just by giving me a quick once-over during the three-monthly medical check-up that they give the whole cosmonaut corps.
Then another four hours of Russian language, although by now the left brain was tucking itself in for an early night in club duvet, Frankfurt time, and the right brain was about ready for an afternoon ziz in Houston, so it really felt like anaesthetic-free brain surgery, much as I love my teacher. She battled through heroically. I survived. Thank goodness for tea.
Finally, a planning session for tomorrow's zero-g flight. I was told to get lots of sleep (so much for that idea - it is now nearly 2am and we need to be up early) and to have some breakfast (better to have something to hurl than for the body to try unsuccessfully to get rid of something, anything, even if it has to be the small intestine). Karen is going to wire me up like a Christmas tree, with enough electrodes to tune into the BBC World Service, before the bus leaves. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, this time we will get heart rate data from both the Polar and the Russian halter ECG. And we might also be able to get the accelerometer readings from the plane, which would give us a great set of data to work with.
This evening consisted of an hour of exercise (working off the Houston vodka) with Karen cracking the whip and simultaneously cooking up a storm. Also, I had a nice interview with the Canadian broadcasting company that is doing a documentary on the international cooperation between the ISS partners. A very nice guy and his crew visited here at the Prophy. Unfortunately I'm getting so used to the interviews that I didn't think to tidy the place up, and only noticed what a mess everything was when I saw the cameraman panning around the room/office/home/garage/space-program-hq. C'est la vie. Then a great dinner, most of which was recorded big-brother style on our new Prophy-cam. And then the detailed run-through of the day's work with the team, and this log. Dale, Karl, Karen, Freddie and others are going to start submitting logs to the web site too, so we'll have a better idea of the whole project as it evolves. These guys have been working like demons to get our payload safely out the door.