Each day, the station completes 16 orbits of our home planet as the six humans living and working aboard our orbiting laboratory conduct important science and research. Their work will not only benefit life here on Earth, but will help us venture deeper into space than ever before.
This is my last entry into the Captain’s Log. Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold and Oleg Artymyev are now in charge after an excellent change of command ceremony where Drew took command of the International Space Station (ISS). We, the crew of the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft, will undock from the International Space Station on Sunday morning (3 June), reenter the earth’s atmosphere and land on the steppe of Kazakhstan. I will be reunited with my family 24 hours later in Houston, and then begin recovery for living on Earth….with gravity….ugh.
I would like to thank all of you for following along on this incredible adventure, an adventure that started for me many years ago, and a journey that you have supported each step of the way.
To our Lead Flight Director, Gary Horlacher (Houston) and our Lead Payload Operations Director Patricia Patterson (Huntsville) – what an amazing job. Endless hours, minimal sleep, and herding a cast of thousands to establish the priorities that would define success for our Expedition. Thank you for your service, and for your outstanding leadership.
To our incredibly talented team supporting from Mission Control at all of our centers – Houston, Huntsville, Tsukuba, Cologne, and Moscow – you are incredible professionals without which our human spaceflight program could not exist. Thank you for your dedication, service and professionalism.
My life has been driven by dreams and goals. One of my concerns has always been that following my heart to achieve my dreams would have a deep impact on my family and friends. In the Navy, we endured multiple extended deployments onboard aircraft carriers, constant training cycles in locations away from home, and long days and weekends of training and work when we finally had some time at home.
In the space program, operational requirements demand the same attention and focus. I have moved my family 12 times in 30 years to make myself available for opportunities to serve that I would have otherwise not been afforded. I have always asked myself – is this worth it? I always assumed “yes”, but could not say definitively in the midst of the journey. My journey has brought my family to several new communities where we needed to learn, adjust, adapt and thrive. We are good at it. My family knows what it is like to live on the East Coast, the West Coast, the desert, the Midwest and the South. My family does not consider varying locations or diverse cultures as barriers to their success, but as opportunities to grow and excel. My children are embarking on their own dreams now, with an energy and focus even greater than I had at their age. My family maintains relationships with lifelong friends all over the country, and now the world. My family believes that dreams are attainable, and that the journey towards their dreams is where the value is found.
I am very lucky that I have lifelong friends that understand what it was that took me away from my childhood home. I am very lucky to have a family that “gets it”. My wife, Raynette, is amazing at being patient, and at making things work amidst unimaginable chaos. I am very proud of my military family for enduring all that they have over the years. Throughout the sacrifice and endurance, they decided to thrive – typical of our country’s incredible military families. My son, Sean Tingle, wrote and produced the song “To Touch the Stars” in honor of our journey that reached another level of success during ISS Expeditions 54 and 55. After hearing this song, I can definitively say, “Yes, it was worth it”.
To my family, friends and colleagues – THANK YOU for a LIFETIME OF INSPIRATION!
Now, it’s time to get busy again – chop chop hubba bubba!
The team on the ground controlling, monitoring, supporting and planning has been amazing. It is always great to work with them, and especially during the moments where the equipment, tools, procedures or crew need help. It is incredible to see how much a good team can accomplish when methodically placing one foot in front of the other.
I have been lucky in that the first crew (Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Alexander Misurkin (Sasha)) and the second crew (Drew, Ricky and Oleg) were all amazing to work with. I do believe the planets aligned for my mission onboard ISS.
Drew and Ricky have been friends forever, and listening to them nip at each other provided a ton of great humor for the ground and for us. Their one-liners to each other reminded me of several scenes from the movie Space Cowboys.
This a great example that happened as I was writing this log entry:
Ricky: Hey Maker, is this your smoothie?
Ricky: It must be Drew’s.
Drew: Hey Ricky, don’t drink my smoothie.
Ricky: What smoothie? This one has my name on it (as he writes his name on it).
Drew: Okay, Grandpa Underpants, hands off my smoothie.
Ricky: Okay, Feustelnaut – we have rules around here, so this is my smoothie now!
All: Much laughing. (To quote my kids: “LOL!”)
One the hardest things to do in space is to maintain positive control of individual items such as tools, spare parts, fasteners, etc. We try very hard not to lose things, but even with all of the attention and positive control, items can still float away and disappear.
We generally hold items in a crew transfer bag (CTB). Inside the CTB are many items for the system that it supports. When the CTB is opened, the items are free floating inside the bag and tend to escape. It is very difficult to maintain control of the items – especially if they are small, do not have Velcro, or when the daily schedule is so tight that we are rushing to stay on time. We always try to close the CTB’s and Ziploc bags after removing or replacing each item to maintain positive control, but this takes much more time to do for individual items, and if the timeline is tight, we absorb more risk by rushing.
The same applies for tools, which we usually keep in a Ziploc bag while working on individual systems and tasks. Last month, I was installing a new low temperature cooling loop pump that had failed a month or two earlier. I gathered the needed tools into my modified (with Velcro) Ziploc bag as I always do and floated over to the work area. When I got there, one of the tools that I had gathered was missing. I looked for 30 minutes, and could not find it. Lost items are very hard to find because the items that escape are usually barely moving and blend in with the environment very quickly. A lost item could be right in front of us and we would never see it.
Our crew, after learning these lessons, decided that when anyone loses something, we would tell the other crew members what we had lost with a general location. This has had a huge impact on finding items. If a different crew member can help within the first minutes of losing an item, the new crew member has an excellent chance of finding the item. We have proven this technique several times during the expedition – and Nemo was the very best at quickly finding lost items. But, in my case, we still could not find the missing tool. Our amazing ground team understood and vectored me to a replacement tool and I finished the job. I spent the next 3 weeks watching, looking and never forgetting about the lost tool. Then, one day last week, Oleg came to the lab and handed us a tool he had found in his Soyuz spacecraft, way on the aft side of the ISS. Amazing. We finally found the tool and I was happy again. This was a lucky ending. ISS has many corners, crevices and hard-to-see areas where missing items could hide and never be found.
We captured a Cygnus cargo craft last Thursday. I was very impressed with the entire team. Our specialists and training professionals in Mission Control did a great job preparing the necessary procedures and making sure we were proficient and ready to conduct operations. The robotic arm is a wonderful system that we could not operate ISS without. Being in space, however, it has some very unique handling qualities. If you think about a spring-mass-damper system just as you did during physics or control theory class, and then remove the damper, you will see a system that is very subject to slow rate oscillations.
In test pilot terms, damping ratio is very low and the latency is well over a half of a second. Also in test pilot terms – this is a pilot-induced oscillations (PIO) generator. These characteristics require crew to “fly” the robotic arm using open-loop techniques, which requires a huge amount of patience. Test pilots are sometimes not very patient, but understanding the system and practicing with the incredible simulators that our ground team built and maintain help keep our proficiency as high as possible. The capture went flawlessly, and I was very impressed with the professionalism across the board – crew, flight controllers and training professionals – what a great job!
Drew, Ricky and I got to play guitar a few times while on ISS. This was fun! Drew connected pickups to the acoustic guitars and then connected the pickups to our tablets for amplification. I’ve never heard an acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar amped up for heavy metal before. We had a great jam on the song “Gloria”, and a couple others. Rock on!
Last night we had our last movie night. The entire crew gathered in Node 2 and watched Avengers Infinity Wars on the big screen. We enjoy each other’s company, as we did during Expedition 54, and this was a welcome break from the daily grind of trying to complete the required stowage, maintenance and science activities while preparing for departure.
Our last full weekend here on ISS. I gave myself a haircut. We usually clean our spaces each weekend to make sure we can maintain a decent level of organization, efficiency and morale. This weekend is no different, and it is time for me to vacuum out all of our filters and vents. You’d be amazed at what we find!
The top 5 things I will miss when I am no longer in space:
The incredible team that supports ISS operations from our control centers
The camaraderie onboard ISS
The breathtaking view of the Earth, Moon, Sun and Stars
Floating/flying from location to location with very little effort
We asked real life astronauts YOUR questions! Was your submission sent to space?
Astronauts Drew Feustel & Ricky Arnold recently recorded answers to your questions in a VideoAnswer Time session. We collected your questions and sent them to space to be answered by the astronauts on Friday, May 18. We recorded their answers and will post them tomorrow, May 30, here on our Tumblr.
Andrew J. Feustel was selected by NASA in 2000. He has been assigned to Expedition 55/56, which launched in March 2018. The Lake Orion, Michigan native has a Ph.D. in the Geological Sciences, specializing in Seismology, and is a veteran of two spaceflights. Follow Feustel on Twitter and Instagram.
Richard R. Arnold II was selected as an astronaut by NASA in May 2004. The Maryland native worked in the marine sciences and as a teacher in his home state, as well as in countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. Follow Arnold on Twitter and Instagram.
Don’t forget check our Tumblr tomorrow at noon EDT to see if your question was answered by real-life astronauts in space.