Chapter 5: 'After Further Examination …'
I am currently poised at my desk at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, enjoying writing this chapter as I have been here in the States for the past three weeks! I have one more week here at home before returning to Star City, Russia, for my next International Space Station (ISS) training session there. It looks like it should be interesting (but that’s another chapter!). My sincere apologies for not having submitted anything in a while, but I have been truly enjoying my time at home. During my most recent trip to Star City (March 22 through April 17), I had another new experience. Nothing too Earth-shattering, but perhaps of some interest to our growing readership out there! It was my toughest academic session yet. By the way, read this carefully, as there will be a test!
Image at left: Soyuz training facility in Star City, Russia. Credit: NASA
Each four-week session of training in Star City includes a multitude of theoretical classes. These classes are designed to provide us (the crew) a working knowledge of the myriad of systems operating onboard the Russian segment of the ISS. In addition, we must also be versed in the technical data and operations of the ISS “lifeboat” Soyuz, which is currently serving the added role of ISS crew transport vehicle (since the Space Shuttle has been temporarily grounded due to the Columbia accident). To date, I have not had any Soyuz training … that will come a bit later.
I have been immersed in information on the Russian systems onboard the Station. While at home in the U.S., I receive training on the systems that operate within the U.S. segment. (More on that later, too!)
This particular session required that I be exposed to and trained on four different systems. Not bad, you might say …? Just four systems to study in four weeks? That’s what I thought, at first. But then, reality hit when it became evident that I would be studying three of those systems simultaneously and would have exams on each of them -- all in the first three weeks! A bit more daunting, perhaps!
The systems were the docking and attachment system, the thermal control system, the electrical power system and the propulsion system. Whew! The most challenging of the four was, by far, the thermal control system. It took three weeks just to cover all of the training material! We talked about the active and passive parts of the overall system, the aspects of the internal and external subsystems, and the air conditioning, ventilation and control systems. We talked about Freon, fans, filters and fires. We covered it all and we still had time to chat about the history of the city of Moscow. It was a great feeling to have completed it successfully. But just what does that mean??
Image at right: Astronauts and cosmonauts learn to operate the Soyuz spacecraft in this simulator. Credit: NASA
Each system is taught in a theoretical lecture (“lek-see-ya”) or practical (“prak-ti-ka”) sessions. The "theoreticals" are just that. The instructor talks, you listen and take notes ... just like in college. The "practicals" are more hands-on, and thus, more fun. In these classes you get to see and touch actual hardware, flip switches, read gauges, turn dials or enter actual commands to the Station’s computers. At night, in our cottage, I study the documentation that has been provided (i.e., “textbooks”) to reinforce what has been discussed during the day. It can be tedious. It reminds me of those long nights back in the dormitory when I was attending Hastings College and Iowa State … yes, I did study back then!
The exams are the most interesting and stressful part. Typically, you have a review session consultation (“kon-sul-tat-zee-ya”) the day before the exam. At this session you may ask any questions in order to clarify concepts about the systems. Sometimes, the system designers from Energia (pronounced “En-air-gey-ya”) come to “help.” They have always been at my exams, which are oral or practical in nature. You are asked various questions to show them your knowledge of the system and often you are asked to perform various functions within the simulator and on the Station controlling laptop computers. An hour later, you are finished and they proclaim that you have passed. The “unofficial” scale is 1 (fail) to 5 (excellent or “ot-leech-na”). I have scored all 5’s thus far … but that’s pretty normal according to the astronauts having already gone through the training.
Time to study some more … oh, the test you say?! You all scored an “otleechna!” Now, get back to work!