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Expedition 13 Journals: Chapter One

Space Station Astronauts Settle in for Six-Month Mission
NASA Science officer and Expedition 13 flight engineer Jeffrey Williams poses for a photograph while floating in microgravity inside the International Space Station (ISS). (Image credit: NASA/JSC.)

The following is part one ofNASA astronaut Jeffrey William's two-part journal of his first month in Earthorbit.

The Soyuz Flight to ISS...

Herewe are on board the InternationalSpace Station finishing up our 1st month on orbit. Before the details fadeany further, let me try to recount the Soyuz experience getting here...

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Pre-launch activities...

After spending the entire quarantine in Kazakhstan on a normal day's schedule,the day before launch we were scheduled with a sleep period starting at 1600(4:00 pm) with a wakeup at 2230 (10:00 pm). That did not work so well forobvious reasons. I spent the first couple of hours completing last minutedetails and then laid awake for the rest of the time.

After "wakeup," we underwent final medical checks, took our final shower andwent to breakfast. Since the launch was still about 8 hours away I actually atea substantial amount. Normally, I wouldn't eat much so as to not have much inthe stomach when arriving in weightlessness--the conservative approach.

The "door signing ceremony" came after breakfast. Back at our rooms we gatheredwith several of the leadership, the flight surgeons, and our families for thetraditional event that included a few words and "toasts" from everybody. Thenit was down the stairs and out the door to the bus. The sidewalk was lined withlaunch guests, trainers, staff, and photographers. With the bright light of thecameras it was difficult to see everybody. As soon as we were on the buses, itwas off to the Cosmodrome.

At the launch pad...

Arriving at the pad [image]gives one the same feeling as the shuttleexperience. The hissing and venting of the rocket makes it obvious thatit's fueled and ready to go.

Thebig difference is the presence of many people just a few yards away from thebase of the rocket--managers, technicians, media and others calling us by nameand wishing us a good flight [image].

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Wegot off the crew bus and reported to the head of the Russian Space Agency(Roscosmos) along with other Russian senior leadership and were walked to thepad elevator with somebody holding each of our arms as we navigated our way inthe awkward "Sokol" suits carrying the ventilation fans. We climbed a few stepsof stairs, turned around to give the traditional wave and then crowded into avery small elevator for the ride to the top and the ingress hatch.

Ingress was pretty much as expected, made slightly more difficult because ofthe stowage in both the habitation module and the descent module where we sit,as well as the reality that the spacecraft was the real thing. To get into theleft seat, you have to lower yourself down into the center seat, lay down andpartially close the hatch, slide carefully over to the left seat and then getinto what can be described as the fetal position.

For the next two hours or so, the communication system was checked out, wepressure checked the space suits and the rocket systems were systematicallyprepared for launch.

Liftoff and ascent...

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Atthat point a couple of significant events occurred which can be rathersurprising if you're not prepared for them. The first was the jettisoning ofthe launch abort system mounted on the nose of the rocket, which occurred witha moderate bang. A few seconds later, the first staging occurred which resultedin an immediate drop in g-load from 4 to about 1 g.

Theshaking and vibration continued at a reduced magnitude as we then continued onthe second stage. At a little over 2 ? minutes into the flight, the shroudaround the spacecraft was jettisoned with a large "explosion" of pyrotechnicsand sudden brightness in the cockpit from sunlight through the newly exposedwindows.

Thena little over 2 minutes later at just shy of 5 minutes into the flight, thenext staging occurred when we went from about 2 ? g's, momentarily to zero andthen back to about 1 g with the starting of the 3rd stage engine. Going back to1 g provided the opportunity to cover the window with a shade so that thedisplays were readable. The ascent continued for a total of just under 9minutes when the engines shut down and we were weightless.

On orbit checkout and maneuvers...

The view from orbit was terrific, of course, but there wouldn't be much time toenjoy it, at least for a few hours. As soon as we arrived, pressure checks ofthe spacecraft were required to make sure we didn't have a leak. Additionallythe flight control system was tested to make sure that we could perform theorbit maneuvers, rendezvous and dock with the ISS. Everything checked outperfectly so we continued with the flight plan.

As we conducted the procedures on orbit, the ground control tracked our orbitto determine the exact maneuvers required for rendezvous and adjusted ourflight plan accordingly by radio calls every time we flew over the area ofRussia. Perhaps the most challenging part of the whole flight was keeping upwith all of the numbers called up during those communication passes. Since thepasses were short in duration and a lot of critical information was required tobe communicated--and all in Russian--it took a lot of concentration to understandand write down the data.

It wasn't until several hours after launch that we were able to take the timeto get out of our seats and enter the "habitation module." Then, after anotherorbital maneuver, we finally were able to take a several hour break and get alittle sleep.

"Living" on Soyuz...

Although small [image],the spacecraft has all of the essentials for living "comfortably." Onceestablished on orbit, we were able to get out of our Sokol suits and intoregular least until the final rendezvous. There was water andplenty of food on board although it had to be eaten at ambient temperaturesbecause there was no way to heat it. We even discovered some fresh apples andoranges, which was a special surprise.

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We have three windows in the Soyuz that were used a lot during the free times.The window time gave me a great tan in the face from the reflected light offthe earth. When we weren't flying the vehicle we put it in a solar-orientedinertial spin; that is, spinning at about 3 degrees/second with the solararrays pointed at the Sun.

Thatmeant that the out-the-window view was a sweep of the earth every 2 minutes orso. It also produced some unique motion sensations. You could actually "liedown" on the upper hatch of the habitation module and be held there by theslight centrifugal force of the spin. It also meant that everything untetheredwould tend to float toward the top. I used this unique situation to sleep bytying a loop around my index finger and "hanging" upside down, actuallysleeping while hanging from my finger. It was a very stable position and Irested well.

Rendezvous and docking...

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Although we trained a great deal for rendezvous failures and manual flying, theautomatic system performed perfectly. We approached the station, flew around toalign with our docking port (timed to coincide with orbital sun rise),commanded the approach, and smoothly docked to what would be our orbital homefor six months.

After a series of pressure integrity checks and getting out of our suits, wewere given the "go" to open the hatches. The crew onboard was very happy to see us [image],probably because they wanted the company but also because we were the reliefthat would allow them to gohome to be reunited with their families.

Upon entering the space station [image],we spent some time visiting our "hosts," conducted a brief live appearance withMission Control and then began the process of settlingin for the expedition [image].

  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 13
  • Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
  • The Great Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown

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