Space Station Life Has its Ups and Downs, Astronaut Says
NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock took this photo of his crewmate Tracy Caldwell Dyson looking out the International Space Station's cupola window. Wheelock posted the photo on Twitter Sept. 15, 2010, writing, "Tracy in quiet reflection of an incredible journey."
Credit: Doug Wheelock/Astro_Wheels

During her six months on the International Space Station, American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson experienced lots of laughs ? and lots of stress.

Caldwell Dyson, of NASA, returned to Earth Sept. 25 with two Russian crewmates aboard their Soyuz spacecraft, capping a mission that included three emergency spacewalks to fix a broken cooling pump that is vital to the station.

"I think anything of that magnitude can be a little stressful at times, but stress can be quite a motivator," Caldwell Dyson told SPACE.com Friday (Oct. 15). "I think the stress we felt was just the criticality, the nature of what has failed and the importance of getting out there and getting it fixed. But there was tremendous focus, not just on orbit but on the ground."

She and fellow American astronaut Douglas Wheelock successfully repaired the pump during their spacewalks and got the station back in good health, with help from their crewmates Alexander Skvortsov, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko of Russia, and Shannon Walker of NASA.

There were also light moments, including jokes shared round the dinner table in the evening, and weightless hijinks.

"I would say some of the funnest parts are of course when you're looking out the window or when we have a vehicle that's arriving, be it a Progress ship or one that's actually carrying people on it ? those are exciting moments," Caldwell Dyson said.

During her time on the space station, Caldwell Dyson also became the first astronaut to deliver an address in sign language. In July she recorded a video for deaf children to give them a glimpse of what life as an astronaut is like.

Ultimately, her space mission was a blast, she said.

"I'd say overall it just went perfectly for me," she said. "It was a perfect length of time filled with great moments, great people."

It was the second trip to space for Caldwell Dyson, who flew aboard the STS-118 space shuttle mission of Endeavour in 2007. But it was her first trip back to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, which offers a different, sometimes rougher ride than the shuttle.

"It certainly didn?t disappoint," she said of her ride home. "It was pretty exciting and all the bangs, bells, whistles and sensations were there. The magnitude of some things were a little surprising, but for the most part it was a pretty exciting ride."