Back in Space Again!
Well, here I am back in space again. Before the launch I was wondering what it would be like to come back. Would my body remember how to operate here? How fast would I be able to adapt? It turns out that my body remembered quite a bit, but even so, there are some things that require some time to get used to. But first let me describe the launch.
This time I was sitting on the mid-deck and therefore had no access to any windows. The only way that those of us on the mid-deck knew what was going on was from periodic calls from the commander telling us. When we entered the Orbiter and I was the first one in on the mid-deck, it was light outside and the sun was shining. At some point during the process of getting all of us aboard it got dark. Eric described what the view looked like out the pilot’s window with the moon and the lights lighting up the surrounding area. We listened to the launch count and once we got out of the nine minute hold we knew that we were going to actually go somewhere. We felt the engine gimbal check and waited for the main engines to light. There was a small vibration and our chairs started shaking six seconds later, a large vibration and lots of noise and we received the “kick in the seat” that you hear so many of us talk about, and we leaped off of the launch pad. The only way those of us on the mid-deck knew we were moving was because of the announcement by Fergie that we had passed the tower. I just laid there calmly waiting to see what would happen. Once the solid rocket boosters separated it got quite a bit quieter and smoother. Listening to the abort boundary calls I tried to remember what I could see out the window at the same point during my last launch, trying to imagine where we were. Just before main engine cut-off we went through a period where we felt 3 g’s and it seemed to me that it felt much stronger on my chest this time as compared to last time, but I think that was probably due to the fact that I had already been lying on my back for 3.5 hours and had some sore spots, that with 3’g’s acting on them, were very noticeable. Main engine cut-off occurs right after feeling the 3’gs and it is a stark contrast. One minute you are struggling with all of this weight on your chest, the next you are floating free in your chair.
It is important to move slowly when you first get to orbit. You have to get used to the environment. I took off my gloves and started to reconfigure my suit, but kept myself fastened to my seat until I had all of the piece parts under control. The first noticeable sensation I had, once I was out of my seat, was the feeling of floating up. I felt like if I did not hold onto anything I was going to float up to the ceiling and stay there. My neurovestibular system had not yet gotten the message that I was not in gravity anymore and was sending me confusing signals. We had to be very active on the mid-deck and get it straightened out so it was almost impossible to maintain a 1-g attitude, which is what is recommended the first day on orbit. I was moving sideways, upside down, straight up and down - you name it and I was probably in that orientation at one time or another. It was very hard to maintain control of my body and I needed to move slowly, but nonetheless, my feet and limbs were going everywhere. It was a big relief to get out of my suit as the heat load had been building up and the cool feeling of being free of it was very refreshing. By the end of the day, I had remembered how to move in zero-g and was back in my accustomed place on the ceiling. During the course of our work on the mid-deck Fergie and Eric would be doing engine burns and would yell down to us to brace ourselves because an engine was coming on. (When the OMS engines come on they impart an acceleration to the Orbiter and everything inside reacts by flying to the back wall.) When that happened all of our bags of stuff would go flying back towards the airlock. When an engine burns like that, you can hear a thud, the Orbiter shakes - then things start flying. It is good to have a heads-up prior to an engine burn since if you did not know it was about to happen, the whole event would be very startling. This happens periodically during the Shuttle mission—engines fire and you have to brace yourself.
We worked hard for several hours and finally got the Orbiter in a configuration for living and working. It was time to call it a day!