Chapter 11: "Let’s go for a walk, shall we …?"
Back in Chapter 9 I related that I had started the initial training flow for the Russian space-walking suit, called the Orlan-M. I subsequently promised, since I didn’t actually climb into the spacesuit then, I would share some spacesuit stories a bit later! Well, now’s the time!
In NASA-ese, a spacewalk is designated an EVA for extra-vehicular activity. Well, our friends in Russia call a spacewalk a ВКД (veh kah deh)оr ВНЕКОРАБЕЛЬНАЯ ДЕЯТЕЛЬНОСТЬ. Roughly translated, this means “activity without a spacecraft.” Put another way, they would say, выход в открытый космоC or “walk in open space.” Our spacesuit is called an EMU or extra-vehicular mobility unit … whew! Their suit is designated the Orlan-M. You may recall that their spacesuits are all named after strong birds and this one is no exception. Orlan comes from the Russian word орел (O-rel) or “eagle.” So, during this trip, along with fellow astronaut Sunita Williams, we have begun the highly desirable training flow that may ultimately lead us to a spacewalk somewhere on the International Space Station in a Russian Orlan with a Russian cosmonaut! Крута (Kroo-ta ... Russian slang for “cool!”)!
While in Russia, Astronaut Clayton Anderson trains for a spacewalk in a Russian Orlan spacesuit. Credit: NASA
This portion of the training flow builds on the theoretical training we received during our last trip to Russia. With our newly gained understanding of how the suit is designed and how it works, we can begin to learn what’s needed to actually use the suit to do work outside the comfort of the Station. In Houston, we accomplish this with training runs wearing the EMU in our Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), a 6.2 million gallon “swimming pool.” While the Russians also have their own “pool,” called the Hydro Lab (гидролабораторияor ghee-dro-lab-or-a-torr-ee-ya), their training requires that we first develop some basic skills prior to entering their pool. Our ability to do this is enhanced by a Russian simulation capability that we do not have in the United States. It provides a suspension system, connected to the suit, which offsets our weight a bit here on Earth, giving us a rough simulation of zero gravity … at least from the perspective we have from within the suits. In addition, this simulator has a mock-up of the Russian segment airlock (it is also their docking compartment, which we designate as DC-1) and its requisite panels as well as a hatch. The combination of these capabilities allows us to practice some basic space-walking techniques while wearing the Orlan, such as depressurization (and re-pressurization) procedures, opening/closing the airlock hatch, use of tethers and most important, executing steps used in the event of equipment malfunctions. In a nutshell, we can do everything we need to prepare us for going “ … out the door.”
The Orlan presents me with one huge personal challenge. Basically, it is a “one size fits all” suit. For a person of my size and stature, that makes it a bit of a tight fit! It does help however, that by using various sizing straps within the Orlan itself, we are able to size the suit more for our individual needs. We can lengthen the arms and legs and raise ourselves in the suit by shortening the crotch height. But alas, there are only two sizes of gloves, which I like to say are sizes small and a bit smaller! Once it’s pressurized, however, it becomes more comfortable, although I’m still a bit snug!
The results of this work will culminate with my first run in the Hydro Lab very soon. It is an exciting time for me … the training pace is increasing and a flight into space is fast approaching. Difficult, you say? Naw, it’s just “a walk in the park!”