Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

October 5, 2006

Second Birth

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 4:47 pm

Many in Russia refer to the time when Cosmonauts are pulled out of the capsule as a Second Birth… Being there, now I knew why! In my last part of the story, I left you hanging in the Soyuz. So, let’s start from there…

The hatch opened and a breath of fresh air took over the smell of burnt wire. I felt like I was hanging from the ceiling and had a hard time raising my head high enough to see who was at the hatch. The hatch door was also blocking the view…

Finally I was able to stretch enough to see out. I recognized the face of one of the rescue team members who was trying to prepare us for the exit. He was the same person who assisted me in my Black Sea survival training. I could hear words of joy and congratulation in Russian… Pavel was responding to them and laughing… there were people with video cameras and mobile phones snapping pictures. I felt like something that was trapped and the captor was taking picture of his catch before releasing it.

First we were handed some hard covers that we were supposed to put over the panels in front of us. Then they started getting Pavel released from his straps. We had tightened our straps so much that it was impossible to properly open them in the position we were in now.

The Search and Rescue (SAR) team member took out a knife and started cutting out Pavel’s knee straps first and reached in to unbuckle his belt. Then two of them reached in and pulled him out.

Being in space for six months does a trick on your body. Your muscles get so lazy that they have a big shock dealing with your weight back on Earth… I also experienced the same effects but mine, I suppose, were milder than what Jeff and Pavel were feeling. Your body is so weak upon return to gravity that it is almost impossible for you to crawl out by yourself…

Next it was my turn… After a few moments of hanging there and just taking a few breaths of fresh air, the same guy returned and started cutting out my straps. This was a little more challenging for him since I was in the right seat and because of the way the capsule landed, I was up higher than the rest of the crew. He finally stretched his torso so much that he could reach over the hatch and cut my knee straps and unbuckle me.

Then he tried to pull me out and I got stuck on the communication hand stick in front… It was hot in the capsule and we were all sweating. I felt heavy and moving was a big challenge. Finally I was able to unhook myself and he pulled me out.

They wrapped me in a blanket and two people carried me to a beach chair… someone came over and handed me a beautiful bouquet of Roses and told me that it was from the Search and Rescue team. There were cameras everywhere and they were continuously snapping pictures.

Before descent, Jeff reminded me to make sure I moved slowly upon landing and to keep my head steady… This helps with the vestibular system’s readjustment to gravity. I followed his instruction and made sure that I did not make any sudden movements. The head of the Training Center handed me an apple that looked appetizing but as soon as I started to take a bite someone from the medical team started shaking his head telling me not to eat it… I guess he was worried that it would make me feel sick. I waited a while but the apple looked too good to give up so I started taking small bites.

Jeff was the last one to be pulled out of the capsule. We all sat there in our beach chairs for a while, thinking about the realities of being back on Earth.

The sun was slowly rising and I enjoyed feeling the warmth of its rays on my face. The morning air was fresh and crisp… I took a deep breath in and it filled my lungs with the energy… I closed my eyes for a second and tried to remember what it was like on the station… I could feel myself floating next to my bedroom window on the station and seeing the Earth slowly going by… I had a big smile on my face and wanted to just stay in that moment forever.

Someone called out my name “Anousheh, Anousheh…” I opened my eyes. It was one of the reporters… How does it feel to be back? I said “Great! I missed my family and I’m excited to see them.”

In reality I was happy to be back and to see my family but I had left my heart on the station. I kept trying to close my eyes again and pretended that I was back up there, where it was safe… where it was free… But I kept getting interrupted by reporters and photographers… I didn’t want to forget that peaceful image and I was afraid that if I don’t try to capture it in my memory now, that it would be gone forever… But I kept getting interrupted…

I looked over to Jeff and Pavel… They were happy and smiling. They looked really pale. The gravity was taking its toll on them. All the blood was draining down into their feet, leaving their faces white as ghosts. This is just one of the things Astronauts and Cosmonauts have to get used to upon their return.

The heart goes on vacation in Zero-G. The blood flows into your head and satisfies your brain that your body is well fed so your heart doesn’t work as hard. Back here on Earth the gravity keeps pulling the blood down to your feet and the heart has to work hard to pump it up to your head.

That is one of the reasons why, when they return to Earth, they feel lightheaded. Pavel was smiling and answering the reporters and Jeff was on the Sat phone talking to his wife back in Star City. The sun was up now and the helicopters carrying the medical team and the reporters kept on arriving… I was looking around to see my flight surgeon. She was supposed to be there. I was told Hamid would be waiting for me in Astana, where the helicopters would take us to catch a flight back to Star City.

The heat from being in the capsule was subsiding and it was starting to feel chilly. I wrapped myself tighter in the blanket and continued searching the crowd with my eyes, keeping my head really still. All of sudden I heard a familiar voice from behind. “Salam… man omoudam!” It was Hamid saying he was there… right behind me… I was so happy to hear his voice… I called out to him “Hamid… Hamid…” I wanted to say “Hamid Hamid come and take me away… away to someplace safe… away from it all.”

Even though I was not supposed to move my head, I looked up and saw him bending over my head… My heart filled with joy and I started crying as I was trying to free my hand from the inside of the blanket and reach up and touch his face…

His face was wet with tears as well and he kissed my face and said “Bargashti! you returned!” I said “I did… I missed you.” I didn’t want to let him go. I felt safe again with him covering my face and feeling his warm cheeks next to mine. I wanted to disappear with him and tell him what a wonderful experience I had and explain every second of it in detail…

But my life here on Earth was not mine anymore and I couldn’t just do what I wanted to… He moved over and sat next to me… I held on to his hand and didn’t want to let go…

They started to move us to the medical tent to take off our space suits and to prepare us for the helicopter ride to Astana. Two guys lifted my chair and started walking toward the tent. I felt like an elephant and felt bad for the poor guys who had to carry me… I kept saying “I’m so heavy!”

They took me to the tent and put my chair down next to a bed. I started getting up to move over to the bed but I got my first surprise! I was pushing down against the chair to get up but I was not going anywhere… I felt like I was strapped down. I sat back down in my chair. It was a strange feeling… Maybe that’s how it feels to be paralyzed. Your head tells you you can do it but your body refuses… Everyone kept asking me “How do you feel… Are you OK?” and I kept responding “I’m so heavy!”

Couple of guys lifted me and laid me on the bed and the doctors and nurses went to work. They had set up a private area for me and had two lady nurses taking care of me. They took off my suit and helped me change into a pair of clean long johns and my flight suit. It was a huge challenge to move. My body felt like lead… It was frustrating… I had to be helped like a baby to dress. They checked my blood pressure and did a quick EKG. Everything looked good. My body felt tired… I noticed some bruises on my legs when they where helping me change. I didn’t have any pain but I felt like I was sinking into the Earth… Hamid called my Mom and sister on the phone and I was able to talk to them. Finally we were cleaned up and ready to fly to Star City…

They asked me to sit up and as soon as I did I felt like I was going to fall down… I had a hard time keeping myself balanced. I laid back down and waited a little longer. Then I sat up again and asked to just sit for a while to get used to this strange feeling of being in gravity… After a few minutes, I tried to stand up with help from my flight surgeon and Hamid. It was hard getting up — I felt REALLY REALLY HEAVY! I stood up in place for a few minutes to get my bearings…

Then, as they were holding my hands, I tried to take my first step… I tried to lift my foot but nothing happened… It was like it was glued to the floor… I tried again and this time with more force, my foot started lifting in slow motion and moved forward just a little bit. I tried moving my other foot and same thing… I felt like I was wearing one of those old brass diving suits, you know the kind they used in the Jules Verne movies… It felt totally strange!

Now I knew why they call it a Second Birth… First you are pulled out of a capsule just like you are pulled out of your mother’s womb, you are then cleaned and need to be taught how to walk again… I don’t remember my birth, but it must have felt just as strange…

Slowly and with a lot of difficulty I walked to a car that took me to the helicopter. They helped me get onboard and laid me back down on the seat. Before they closed the door, Hamid said “here is the capsule!” I had not seen the capsule after landing… I lifted my head slowly and stretched my neck and watched the burnt black capsule in the distance…

It was hard to believe that we had returned to Earth in that capsule… It was so small… but it had protected us from burning in the atmosphere and from the impact of hitting the ground… It was my shield and I felt sad seeing it out there at the end of its life… It had performed well, carried Marcos Pontes, Pavel Vinogradov, and Jeffrey Williams safely to the station and had carried us back, with me instead of Marcos, to Earth.

It was the end… the end for this capsule and the end for my amazing and wonderful journey to my dream land. This was THE END of this chapter of my life…

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