Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

September 26, 2006

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…

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…

Space Travel Details

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 2:13 am

…that everyone wants to know: How do you take a shower in space? How do you brush your teeth? How do you wash your hair?

Well my friends, I must admit keeping good hygiene in space is not easy! There is no shower or faucet with running water. Water does not “flow” here, it “floats” 😉 — which makes it a challenging act to clean yourself. So what do people do up here, specially the ones staying for six months at a time…? They improvise!

There are wet towels, wet wipes and dry towels that are used for cleaning yourself. Usually each person gets a wet towel a day and couple of dry ones. Each person has a personal hygiene kit where they keep their stuff like toothbrush, shaving kit, creams , etc. I got Dice-K’s kit so it had a razor and lots of shaving cream, but no makeup 😉

Now brushing your teeth in space is another joy. You cannot rinse your mouth and spit after brushing, so you end up rinsing and swallowing. Astronauts call it the fresh mint effect 🙂

The most interesting experience — or I should call it experiment — is washing your hair. Now I know why people keep their hair short in space. You basically take a water bag and slowly make a huge water bubble over your head and then Very Very Gently, using a dry shampoo, you wash your hair. At the slightest sudden movement, little water bubbles start floating everywhere. I’ve made some video of my hair-washing experience that I will share when I return 🙂

Of course water here is a valuable resource, and is recycled so anything wet is not thrown out, instead it is left out to air dry. There is a water conduction collection unit that takes the moisture out of the air and recycles and purifies it. This includes your sweaty clothes after exercising. One of the cosmonauts once told me, “We are all very close to each other, we are like brothers and sisters, it is very unique because we drink each others’ sweat.” Now I know well what he means…

There is exercise equipment here, a treadmill and a bike with the best view of the world in the Russian segment, and some resistance training equipment and another bike in the American segment.

Astronauts and cosmonauts train every day, sometimes twice a day, to make sure they reduce the effects of weightlessness on their muscles and bones. Just in case you didn’t know, when people are in weightlessness for an extended period of time, their muscles start weakening and shrinking because they are not used as much. There is no gravity to work against, so everything is effortless. You also start losing calcium in your bones so you have a bone density loss.

They always say you cannot have your cake and eat it too… So I guess all the beauty and excitement of space comes with a price. Of course I’m sure one of you guys out there will become a biologist or a doctor who will figure out how to counteract all these effects so we can travel long distances to Mars and other solar system planets and moons and continue our quest beyond our solar system…

Space Cadet,

September 22, 2006

The Trip Up

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 11:57 pm

Hi everyone,

It is about 11:30 GMT here on ISS. It looks like my first entry from space made it down there.. Amazing, isn’t it…?

So first let’s take care of a few housekeeping items… I do not have realtime access to email. The email process is a batch process so it happens three times a day. I will do my best to get at least one entry in per day.

I do not have access to a web browser so I cannot read all your comments. I get some of your questions and greetings forwarded to me and I know that many people are sending their well wishes and words of inspiration. You cannot imagine how happy you have all made me, by sharing this experience with me.

Every time I read a message saying how someone has been energized and motivated to pursue their dreams, I get Goosebumps. I get all teary eyed when I read how a young girl in Mashhad is watching me and is motivated to one day become an Astronaut.

I know all of you will realize your dreams, if you want it bad enough in your heart and are willing to work hard and sacrifice for it. I will be reading every single one of your messages personally, when I return… So please continue to write to me.

Now that we have taken care of that, let’s talk about the ride up here, as I promised…

Well I took a motion sickness pill on the launch pad which was great. When we got to orbit I felt fine and I was able to look out the window as the world kept spinning around us, or more correctly I should say, we spun around the world.

They usually say you should not do that the first day because it will make you sick. Well… I just couldn’t resist…

I felt fine and even had some crackers and cookies for dinner before I went to bed. Our time was shifted back so we were basically scheduled to go to sleep about 6 pm and wake up about 3:00 am.

The first night we were all so tired that going to sleep early was no problem. Ah! I forgot to mention… when the Soyuz is put in orbit to chase the space station, it spins on its axis the whole time. The trip to the station takes close to 48 hours…

Now I knew why we had those dreaded spinning chair trainings.

Misha told us that it would make us feel better if we would hang our sleeping bags from the ceiling of the Habitation Compartment and put our head in the center of the hatch. This way we would be close to the center of mass and would feel less of the spinning effect.

So I followed his direction and hung my sleeping bag upside down and slipped into the bag. L.A. hung his from the ceiling the other way and did the same thing. Misha went into the descent module to sleep.

I was taking a mental picture of how we must look in our sleeping bags and it reminded me of Bats who sleep hanging upside-down from their cave ceiling. Well here we were in our tiny cave, floating about the Earth and heading to ISS.

I decided to be on the safe side and took another motion sickness pill before going to sleep. These pills actually make you sleepy so I figured it would help me go to sleep faster. I was able to locate my iPod in my bag and I was a happy camper… I put on my headphones and went to sleep in my Bat sack 😉 I did not know how I would react to sleeping while floating. You are not in touch with any surface and I figured it would be kind of strange, but I loved it. It made me feel very calm, like I was floating on the surface of a lake.

So far so good… The next morning when I woke up, I was so excited I slipped out of my bag quickly and flew head down to the Descent Module and flipped around and flew right back up to the Habitation Compartment. As soon as I stopped I realized that what I did was not a good idea! I felt my internal organs doing a cha-cha inside my belly…

I stopped and tried to minimize my movements. I basically become a mummy from that point forward. I only did very small slow movements and even that would make me feel really sick…

On top of that, I was having two more space flight symptoms. The first one was lower back pain. Basically your spine stretches because of the fluid and you get taller. I was happy about being taller but the pain was not fun.

The second symptom was fluid shift to the head. Because gravity is not there to help the blood that is pumped by your heart go down to your feet, it accumulates in your head, so your face gets puffy and red and you get a headache. It sort of feels like when you do a headstand for a long period of time.

So here I was with a Big Headache, pain in my back and nausea. I told myself, “This is not a good start — what if I feel like this the entire time!” After vomiting a couple of times, I decided to go for the big guns…

The flight surgeon had packed some motion sickness injections to be used as needed. I figured I really needed it, so I asked Mike and Misha to give me a shot. They consulted on the instruction given to them and decided on half of the medication to be injected. Mike prepared the syringe and Misha administered it. They were both so worried about me and wanted to do something to make me feel better. I felt bad for ruining their first Soyuz flight…

It did not take long for the injection to put me to sleep. Misha prepared my sleeping bag for me. This time I asked to be rolled in a small area so I could be in a fetus position. It seemed to make my lower back pain better. He also recommended that I have my head pressed against one of the cargo bags to help with my Headache. I rolled up in my sleeping bag with my head pushed against the cargo and spent most of the day sleeping. I would occasionally open my eyes and see Misha and Mike moving about. They asked me couple of times if I wanted to eat anything or needed anything. they checked my temperature and made sure that I was not getting worse.

So the second morning I woke up and felt a little better but still not well enough to eat or move around. I decided I should take another injection. And this time, after Misha and Mike had consulted with the flight surgeon, they gave me a full dose of injection.

I was really disappointed in myself… Here I thought I was always meant to be in space and now that I finally was, I was so sick I couldn’t even look out the window… I kept telling myself “Stop this nonsense… You are stronger than this… Get ahold of yourself.. this is all in your head, you can stop it…”

I was getting really impatient and wanted to get to the station. Somehow I thought I would feel better, but everyone told me that when you first enter the station, you feel bad since you are going from a small volume to a large volume.

I did not care, I just wanted to get out of my little Bat sack and get in a brighter, bigger place. Misha told me that I have to suit up for the docking. Right after I got my injection, they helped me get into my space suit and got me strapped in my seat.

The docking process takes a long time. After docking, a leak check is done for the docking hatch area to make sure there is no depressurization. It usually takes close to two hours. I kept dozing in and out as Mike and Misha went through the docking procedure.

I was wide awake on the approach and watched us inch our way closer and closer to the Station. I was so excited. Every inch we were closer I felt better, until we were finally docked.

After a while I decided to get out of my seat and take my suit off. I knew there would be cameras as we entered the station and I did not want to look like a sick dog. As I took my spacesuit off I was feeling much better. I even felt hungry and ate a few crackers.

The time went by really slowly, but finally the moment arrived and they were ready to open the hatch. Mike and Misha called me closer and told me to take a good whiff because this would be the first time I would smell “SPACE.”

They said it is a very unique smell. As they pulled the hatch open on the Soyuz side, I smelled “SPACE.” It was strange… kind of like burned almond cookie. I said to them, “It smells like cooking” and they both looked at me like I was crazy and exclaimed:”Cooking!”

I said, “Yes… sort of like something is burning… I don’t know it is hard to explain…”

By this time Jeff and Pasha were ready for us and opened the hatch from the other side and hugged us and welcomed us to the station… As soon as I stepped on the station I felt like I was home… I felt 100 percent better… I had a hard time keeping myself from smiling… I could not believe it… I made it to my destination… I was finally home 🙂

And the rest you probably saw on NASA TV 😉

until next Blog… have a peaceful day 🙂

Atlantis from Orbit

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 4:11 pm


L.A. just called me to watch the shuttle Atlantis land… What a sight… This trip is just getting better and better. It was beautiful. First just a flashing dot of orange color light then a steady point of light… and toward the final stages it just looked like a beautiful comet in slow motion. A shining orange point with a streak of white tail behind it….

Just incredible… As I watched them land I prayed for their safe landing. We lost sight of them as the daylight began to obscure our view… But we later heard that they landed safe and sound…

Happy return Atlantis…

September 21, 2006

Hello World

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 7:36 pm

I’m finally here… the trip was long but definitely worth it… well let me start from the beginning…

The day started early for us in Baikonur. We got up at 1:00 am Baikonur time and had a short breakfast, followed by an alcohol rub down 😉 Then we were given a set of white long johns to wear under our flight uniforms to go to the launch site.

We had a brief prayer and blessing session and as we were leaving our rooms, we signed our bedroom doors. This is a tradition that they say started with Yuri Gagarin. They also say that the cleaning lady who came to clean the room the next day started scrubbing down the signature until she was quickly stopped. So, my signature now rests next to Greg Olsen, the 3rd Private space explorer and Marcos Pontes, the first Brazilian Astronaut.

I called my grandmother before I left since she could not be in Baikonur. She wished me good luck and safe return.

We then proceeded to the bus to go to the Launch site. From the Cosmonaut Hotel door to the bus is a short walkway. On both sides of the walkway there were family and friends and journalists snapping pictures and taking video footage. In the blinding lights of the cameras, I was able to identify all my family members who came for the launch. They were up in the early hours of the morning to see me off on my great adventure. My Mom was crying and everyone else was trying hard not to show their tears.

We got on the bus and headed to the launch site. During this whole time I was surprisingly calm. I thought that the morning of the launch, I would be a nervous wreck, but to my great surprise I had no fear or anxiety.

We drove to the building where we would prepare for our launch and we went in the room to get suited. One by one, we entered the room, first Misha Tyurin, then Michael L.A., and then me.

After we were all suited up, we went into a room with a glass wall on one side for the final approval from the officials and a suit leak check. On the other side of the glass wall, my mom, sister Atousa, and my husband Hamid were already in the room and seated in the front row. So were Misha’s family and Mike’s. The room was full of reporters. We sat there for a while waving and trying to talk using sign language with our family members as they would come into the room in small groups and leave to make room for the next group of people. We must have looked really funny on camera since we were making strange faces and gestures…

We did our leak check and were officially good to go. We were then escorted back to the bus as we waved to the crowd and reporters. The next tradition was the short stop of the bus for the boys to take a leak;-) This also apparently started with Gagarin and still goes on… Fortunately, I was excused from this exercise and was able to just mentally participate.

We stopped at the foot of the rocket and got out and walked up the ladder that leads to a tiny elevator barely big enough for the 3 of us. We got in and were lifted to the top section to enter the capsule. We went through a tent and then into the habitation module.

I was the first to enter. I was still very calm, excited… but calm. I don’t think my heart rate went over 100 (I’m usually in the 80’s). I had a permanent smile tattooed on my face. I was seated and strapped in.

L.A. came down next and got situated in his tiny space and last was Misha Tyurin. we were still about 2 hours away from launch and there was a series of procedures the two of them had to go through. I was responsible for three simple actions — to turn the condensation valve and switch it between habitation module and descent module, to open and close the oxygen supply valve as needed (pretty important task! ;-)), and to hand the other crew members the flight data files that were situated next to me. Fortunately, not too complicated and I was able to perform my duties as needed.

I followed their actions step by step through the flight data files and made some personal notes on the margins of my book, when I had a chance. Finally the moment arrived and the countdown started. LA, Misha and I put our hands together and said “Ready… here we go.” I thanked God for helping me realize my dream and for everything it has given me. I asked it to fill the heart of all its beings with its love and to bring peace to this beautiful creation we call Earth.

5… 4… 3… I’m really going…2…I love you Hamid…1… and a smooth lift off.

Watching Soyuz TMA 8 launch, I never thought it would be this smooth inside the capsule… It was like an airplane takeoff — then the G’s started but very mild. I think we hit about 2 or 2.5 Gs max… then the separation and the Nose Fairing ejected. Still very smooth. A ray of light filled the capsule and warmed my heart. I think I was laughing out loud. The joy in my heart was indescribable…

The separation of final stage was the most noticeable to me and then Weightlessness…

This wonderful feeling of freedom that puts a smile on everyone’s face. I slowly lifted off my seat and continued giggling. I just couldn’t believe it… to be honest with you, the whole thing is still like a dream to me… I was strapped in so tight that I couldn’t look outside. Finally when we were safe in the orbit, we were able to open our visors and to loosen our belts…

L.A. took his glove off and it started floating in the cabin. I could not stop giggling the whole time… I was finally able to take a look outside and saw the Earth for the first time… Tears started rolling down my face. I could not catch my breath… Even thinking about it now still brings tears to my eyes. Here it was this beautiful planet turning graciously about itself, under the warm rays of the Sun… so peaceful…so full of life… no signs of war, no signs of borders, no signs of trouble, just pure beauty…

How I wished everyone could experience this feeling in their heart, specially those who are at the head of the governments in the world. may be this experience would give them a new perspective and help bring peace to the world.

I think that is enough for now… I shall let you know about the ride up here in the next entry… I’m hungry for some space food now and will catch up with you in the next orbit… right now we are flying over the Pacific Ocean approaching Mexico…

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