Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

September 27, 2006

Thank God for Velcro

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 4:48 pm

Being in weightlessness has its wonderful advantages…

You can lift a 500 lb block with one hand and move it around with one finger… You can fly and float around instead of walking… you can do somersaults at any age… and you can play with your food.

As I have said before, everything is effortless. If you want to move forward you slightly touch a wall or any other solid object with one finger and you start moving in the opposite direction of the force you applied. People are blocking your way in the hallway, no worries, you flip to the ceiling and just like Spiderman crawl the ceiling over their head using the bar handles on the walls (of course you cannot crawl but it looks like you are crawling).

You forgot your book at the other side of the module, no problem… you ask someone close to it to send it to you … that means they pick it up and very gently push it toward you, and here it is… your book flying to you all the way from the other side. Your friend is having a candy and you ask if you can have some, so he gently throws a piece your way and it comes flying into your open mouth… (Kids please don’t try any of these in Gravity 🙂 )

In space it is okay to play with your food. The astronauts and cosmonauts all do. The cheese puffs are not put into the mouth by hand, they are slightly jolted out of the container and flown to your mouth. When you open a bag of soft food like yogurt or soup, if you are not really really careful, small yogurt bubbles or soup bubbles start floating around and then you can catch them with your spoon. But if you try to catch them too fast, one bubble hits your spoon and becomes 10 smaller bubbles and now you have to catch ten of them!

I truly enjoy weightlessness… You feel like a free spirit. I remember when I was very young, for a long period of time I had this constant dream that, to the amazement of my family, I was floating from one room to the next in our house and I was amazed at my ability to do that. Of course, in my dream, I was expert at it and I was able to float around with my will power and not by touching things around me.

In reality though, I’m a rookie… I fly around hitting walls and dislodging things. The first few days I would push against a wall too hard and end up flying too fast to the other wall, not being able to stop and BANG! I would hit the other wall and bounce back toward where I started from… Recently, however, I was complimented on how professionally I fly! It was very flattering 🙂

I guess the closest thing to moving in weightlessness is floating in water. But there is a major difference. In water when you move your arms and legs, you move… in here you can move your arms and legs all you want, but you are not going anywhere. The only thing that can help you move is the gentle air flow from the fans…

The guys up here wanted to show me how this concept works so they put me in the middle of the Node, which is one of the American Modules, and I couldn’t reach anything to push myself… so I was just floating in the middle of the Node and no matter how much I moved myself I did not go anywhere. They were all laughing at me and finally the gentle breeze from the fan slowly got me close to a handle on the ceiling and I was able to free myself 🙂

So now keeping this in mind, today when you are working, imagine there is no gravity so not only are you floating, everything around you is floating too. Can you imagine that? You are sitting at your computer typing…. well… you can’t sit because nothing will keep you in your seat, unless you strap yourself down to a chair that is bolted to the floor… So since you cannot sit, let’s stand… well, you cannot stand still either because every key stroke pushes you further form the keyboard.

So what do people do in space when they want to stay in one place and do something? They use their feet to secure themselves. They stick their feet under these bars that are all over the place or find something to anchor their feet. That is why, the first day I arrived on the station, Pasha gave me these soft Eskimo lamb skin boots… I didn’t know why and did not wear them. Then at night when I went to bed, I noticed that the top of my feet had small bruises and hurt a little. In space you learn to use your toes well. I don’t think I ever paid any attention to them on Earth, but up here, your big toe is a powerful tool to hold you in place.

So let’s continue working… You want to read something from a book so you put the book on the table, butl it doesn’t stay… You put your soda pop bottle on top of it to keep it down, now you have the book flying with your pop bottle, so you hold it down with one hand but now the bottle is flying, so you quickly grab the bottle with the other hand, and then the phone rings… You put the book on the table to pickup the handset and as soon as you do that the book starts flying again and you try to control the handset but now it’s floating away…

You get the picture… So God invented Velcro for this very purpose… to keep things in place in weightlessness. Everything here has Velcro attached to it…even your pants have Velcro strips. I thought things could be secured if I put them in my pockets and closed the zipper. Well they are secured until you open the zipper and take one out… here comes the other small items flying out.. Shhhh! don’t tell anyone up here but I’ve lost a few little things already, like my lip-gloss 😉

So basically everything you own should have Velcro attached to it. There are bags of Velcro strips with different shapes and colors up here and they are used all over the place. You just have to remember that if you let anything go, it does not stay in the same place and that makes performing tasks a little more challenging up here.

All in all though, it is a wonderful feeling to float… and my biggest challenge before I leave is to see how long I can stay floating in one place without hitting anything. You have to stand still and not exert any force on any thing. So far I can only do 25 seconds before I’m carried away…

It’s time for me to go savor the last few days onboard…

Til’ later…

September 26, 2006

Change of Command, Undocking and Landing

Filed under: Personal Spaceflight — by X PRIZE @ 11:37 pm

Timeline kindly provided by Peter Guelzow, President AMSAT-DL, with all times converted to UTC.

Anousheh’s trip to the ISS took about two days from launch to docking, but the return to Earth takes only less than 3.5 hours.
(more…)

Watching the world go by…

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 9:10 pm

You have probably heard the expression “watching the world go by.” I guess it is usually used in the context of just passing time, relaxing, and not doing anything… just observing… Sort of a state of inaction…

For Astronauts this expression has a new meaning…

I first heard it from Peggy Whitson and then up here from Jeffrey Williams and Mike LA. For them, it literally means Watching the world go by! As you stare out the window up here you see the Earth slowly rotating in the opposite direction. I guess you could see it both ways… some may see it as if they are stationary on ISS and the Earth is rotating, like I do 😉 — and some may see it as if the Earth is stationary and they are rotating in ISS.

The reality is that we are both rotating in the same direction but the space station is going about 20 times faster than Earth so it makes it feel like the Earth is rotating in the opposite direction… Ok enough of that… I guess your head must be spinning now 🙂

So anyway… When you look out, depending on which window you are looking through, you will get a different perspective on Earth. From the windows in the Service Module (remember this is were we eat ) you can see straight down so you see just the Earth surface with a little curvature at the edges.

From the side windows in the little cabins and the docking compartment, where I sleep, you see the complete curvature of the Earth against the dark background of the universe. This view is actually my favorite because you see the “Whole” not the “Parts.” I always like to see the big picture before deciding or worrying about the pieces. I wish the leaders of different nations could do the same and have a world vision first, before a specific vision for their country.

So where were we? I was talking about watching the world go by… When I first heard the expression, I loved it and I have tried it up here… especially at night from my sleeping bag. During sunlight (day time) you can see hundreds of shades of blue in the oceans depending on the depth of the ocean and how the sun is reflecting off the surface… You can see the land masses, mostly without vegetation, with these veins running through them in different shapes. These are either rivers or reminiscent of water flowing on the ground and making its mark as it travels down to the oceans…

The cities are easily distinguishable because they look like someone took a shovel and messed up the ground in that area. The agricultural lands have specific geometric shapes and demonstrate different colors based on the crop and the type of soil. You cannot see any borders… you cannot tell where one country ends and another one starts… the only border you see is the border between land and water.

Most of the Earth is usually covered by clouds. First I thought, “This is a bummer! I cannot see anything or take pictures of anything.” But then I got mesmerized by the clouds… They have so many different shapes and formations… Sometimes they look like a thick white fluffy blanket, some other times like little cotton balls scattered all over…

For the Iranians out there, it reminds me of when I was very young in Iran and we had “Panbeh Zan.” They would come every once in a while and take the cotton-filled blankets (Lahaf) and take the cotton out and fluff it with this ancient device that looks like a big bow (Oh! Oh! I’m dating myself ;)) In some regions the clouds look like streaks… like someone took a paint brush and white paint and just stroked the paintbrush in different directions…

Watching the clouds reminded me of Hamid, my husband… one of our favorite things to do, when we are on vacation, is to lay outside and watch the clouds and see what shapes we see in them… I could see many shapes up here… today for example there was this group of clouds that looked like birds or planes… you know the shape… there were also these clouds that looked like Atomic bomb Mushroom cloud… Pasha (Pavel Vinogradov) pointed out a big circular shaped cloud region and told me “Cyclone” or Hurricane.

You can spend hours just watching outside… but after about 45 minutes, the sky starts to get dark as the sun sets behind the Earth and creates this amazing hue of Orange mixed with the prettiest Blue… and then the night time comes. You cannot see the Earth that well unless you’re going over cities. Only then you will see these blotches of orange hue spread around. Large cities, of course, are more visible.

Most of the nights when I look out, I can see thunderstorms down below. I know it’s not pleasant for people experiencing the storm on the ground, but from up here, it looks like a magnificent light show. These flashes of light pop up in different locations randomly. The other night as I was watching this I was listening to “Canon” by Johann Pachelbel, and it looked like someone was orchestrating the lightning with the music… I think we were somewhere near the coast of Australia over the Pacific Ocean…

But that is not the best part. The best part and by far my favorite view up here is the view of the universe at night. The stars up here are unbelievable… It looks like someone has spread diamond dust over a black velvet blanket. The Milky Way is easily visible… like a rainbow of stars over the entire earth… I cannot keep my eyes off of them I put my head to the window and stay there until the coldness of the glass gives me a headache… then I pull my head back a little and continue gazing out.

As I gaze out I thank God once again for helping me be here and experience this. I have been thanking him for letting my inner voice carry out to you all and ask him to give me the vision to see my path in life and the strength to pursue it. These are the most peaceful moments I have had in my life and I feel a great source of positive energy. I have a hard time sleeping too long because I keep forcing my eyes open to just see this beauty and take it all in… only a second longer…

Good night! my Window awaits me so I can watch the world go by and feel all your tears and laughter from down below…

Have an awesome day or night, where ever you are…

The View from NASA TV

Filed under: International Space Station,Personal Spaceflight,space-blog — by X PRIZE @ 7:52 pm

NASATV View

September 25, 2006

Close Quarters

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 4:20 pm

The days here onboard start at about 4:00 am GMT and end about 7:30 pm GMT. 7:30 is supposed to be lights out! But it is the time that everyone can relax a bit and just chat, make some personal calls to family members, or simply look out the window and admire the views…

It is a nice a cozy feeling. As you may know, the station makes an complete orbit every 90 minutes, so when I talk about night don’t think of it as night on Earth when it is dark outside. The sun rises and sets during each orbit and you can watch 32 beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the course of the day.

During the day everyone is pretty busy with specific tasks assigned to each crew member by Mission Control in Moscow and Houston. The schedule is uplinked to the station with specific instructions for the activities as needed. There is a staff meeting call in the morning to make sure everything is clear, and another one at the end of the day to see what progress was made and to talk about the activities for the next day. Even weekends are not really weekends up here. The workload may be a little less, but there are still tasks to be done and systems to be repaired and educational programs to be completed.

At about 6:30 pm everyone gathers around the dining table in the Russian segment Service Module (SM). We heat up a few cans and hydrate some freeze dried food (soup, mashed potato, vegetables) and have a few laughs and share some space stories.

The long duration crew gets pretty creative with what they have available. After six months of eating the same fifteen basic meals, it could get a little tiring… In order to add some spice, they combine parts of different meals together to make new recipes ;-). From time to time they get a care package in the cargo containers sent up with the Shuttle or the Russian Progress cargo ship. The care packages contain some fresh food that has to be eaten basically that same day. You can imagine how good a fresh apple could be after several month of canned food.

Visiting space for a short while is one thing but staying on for half a year is another… You are a long way from your family and friends, and except for emails and short duration phone calls, you don’t have anyone else to talk to except your other crewmates. Right now the long duration crew is a combination of three astronauts or cosmonauts, but pretty soon the ISS Partner countries are planning to increase that to a crew of six.

I guess those of you in college and living in a dormitory can relate to it. There is one big difference though… When you get sick of your roommate you just step out and go walk for while or talk to someone else or sleep someplace else. Here, if you don’t like your roommate, there is nowhere to go. The next ride home arrives in six months and you better work on your interpersonal relationships 😉

But I must say, I have been absolutely amazed at how wonderful the astronauts and cosmonauts are. I don’t know how they get selected. Maybe they are all, like me, from planet K-PAX 😉 (sorry if you have not seen the movie you won’t get this!) But they are really intelligent, warm-hearted, peaceful individuals. Everyone I met in Star City and up here can be called superhumans… I honestly think we should get astronauts to run for presidency… they are great leaders with a unique perspective on the World!

So even though these guys and gals are in close quarters for six months or sometimes longer, they get along pretty well and they become lifelong friends. Up here their lives depends on how well they work together and how well they communicate… and when you have to establish such a strong bond, you cannot just cut it when you return to Earth.

It’s sort of like on Earth, if you think about it… We are all connected to each other by living on the only habitable planet in the solar system… we have no place else to go, at least not for a while… so if we don’t get along and blow up everything and create a mess of our home, well guess what? WE have to live with it…

Most veteran cosmonauts speak English and most veteran astronauts speak Russian. The funny thing I have observed sometimes is when a cosmonaut asks a question in English, his astronaut counterpart will answer in Russian. This is what I call mutual respect! If only we had more people practice it on Earth, we would have a much more peaceful place to live.

I’m sure there are days when one of them is having a bad day and cannot stand being around the others, but I also know that he or she makes sure that he does not take his negative feelings out on his colleagues. And the others also understand his or her state of mind and let him or her have a little more privacy.

So even though there is about 1500 square feet up here (about the size of an average three-bedroom house) filled with tons of equipment and the six of us with nowhere to go, we are having a pretty good time and enjoying it … or at least that’s how I feel 😉

Til tomorrow…
May the force be with you…

Apple Does Not Fall

Filed under: Personal Spaceflight — by X PRIZE @ 3:45 pm

and other new photos on Flickr (and now here)
appledoesnotfall.jpg

Iran from ISS mybedroomview.jpg DFW new array by Atlantis

APPLEDOESNOTFALL.jpg

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