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Greg Chamitoff's Journal
Message 2

Dear Friends,

This is an unusual time and place to write a journal, but I think it’s perfect!

ISS017-E-011566 -- Expedition 17 crew

Expedition 17 Commander Sergei Volkov (foreground) and Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko (left background) and Greg Chamitoff pose for a photo with a Russian Orlan spacesuit (left) and an Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit in the Unity node of the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

I’m sealed inside the descent capsule of the Soyuz vehicle, while my crew-mates perform their first Russian spacewalk (EVA). At this moment Sergei and Oleg are in their spacesuits and going through their checkouts before opening the hatch.

Why am I in the Soyuz? Well, the Soyuz is docked to the Russian docking compartment, and this is the module from which they need to depress and repress for the EVA. Since the Soyuz is our ‘rescue’ vehicle, I need to be able to reach it in case of an emergency. During the EVA the docking compartment will be at vacuum, so if I stayed on the station, there would be a vacuum between me and the rescue vehicle. So the result is that I had to move from the voluminous and comfortable space station to the incredibly compact descent capsule.

So it is me plus three spacesuits (of the re-entry type, not spacewalking type) and a ton of other stuff that they wanted us to have with us in case of an emergency. Should there be some kind of serious problem during the EVA, such as not being able to repressurize the docking compartment, the idea is that they would enter the Soyuz upper compartment, and they would repressurize within the Soyuz. In that case we would still be all together and could leave the Space station, re-dock to another docking port, and/or return to Earth if the situation called for that. So to prepare for this remote possibility, we just finished closing all the hatches within the station, isolating all the modules from each other, and otherwise did a long list of tasks that give the ground the greatest flexibility in managing the station in the case that there is no crew onboard for a while. My greatest concern right now is just that the EVA goes smoothly and safely, and that we can get back into the station when it’s all over.

With all the extra ‘stuff’ in the Soyuz descent module, I have just enough room to be wedged between the control panel and the seats. Lying across the 3 seats, I still can’t straighten my legs (but almost). I have the 3 suits in the 3 seats, plus I have a huge extra bag of supplies and equipment.

Obviously, I’ve got a laptop computer. I also have some extra batteries, some food and water, extra clothes because it gets cold in here, a camera, a book, and, most importantly, I’ve got several episodes of "Star Trek" and "StarGate I" on my computer to watch. So this is my plan…... I’m going to watch the world go by out the window and watch "Star Trek" on my laptop. That way, I can marvel at our planet and our existence, while dreaming of the future. What could be better than that!?

OK, 4 hours later now, and on my 3rd of 5 laptop batteries. I’ve got a great setup here. I need to keep the headset on to talk to Mission Control in Moscow if needed (and to answer their calls). But I’ve got my ear-buds under the headset and hooked up to my portable media player. So at the moment I’m listening to some great jazz music. What a great feeling it is to be here! I was going to say that it seems like God’s view of everything we know, but actually, the grandeur of this view might be attributed more to its simplicity or purity.

The sky is pitch black, as black as black can get, and this is immediately adjacent to the sunlit Earth, which is so bright you can hardly look at it. The ocean is a rich and bright blue. The clouds form bright white and artistic patterns on a continental scale. The shorelines seem like they’ve been drawn freehand and are everywhere, very sharp boundaries between brown and blue. The scale of everything and the clarity are just overwhelming and so beautiful. On the other hand, there is so much beauty and complexity that you cannot see from here. The contrast between the view and the detail is striking. There is this immense wonder of nature below me, but hidden within it is the complexity of the civilization that it must host in order to create my current situation. The history and culture and knowledge and infrastructure and technology that is required to somehow put me here at this particular window listening to great jazz – there’s no way to even begin to appreciate the richness and complexity we have down there without swooping all the way down and being equally overwhelmed by the variety of life, culture, cities, arts, science and machinery that we humans somehow developed from the pure Earth, air, water, and fire (the sun) seen from here.

The Soyuz vehicle is shaking back and forth and I see some sunlit particles flying off into space. It must be Sergei and Oleg climbing around on the outside. They are cutting away a part of the micrometeoroid and thermal protection blanket to access one of the pyro bolts that may have been the source of the problem with the last Soyuz re-entry. One of their tasks is to remove one of these bolts and bring it inside. Their work today may help the Control Center in Moscow understand what’s going on with these pyro bolts, and it may also hopefully prevent a similar incident with this Soyuz when they ride it home in October. It’s cool to see these small pieces float away, but on the other hand, I know that these are new pieces of debris that are moving at 28,000 km/hr, and unless they happen to be in exactly your orbit, they can hit you with a good fraction of that velocity.

My 3rd battery is about to quit. It’s actually a really cool feeling to be isolated in this capable little spacecraft, looking out over the Earth, while typing this journal. I wish my office had a view like this (although it does have the advantage of a bathroom down the hall!).

From space,
Greg