This 45 day mission – which began May 5, 2018 and ends today, June 18 – will help our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. This study at our Johnson Space Center prepares us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.
The Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) that the crew members will be living in is one compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 45 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. So no checking social media, kids!
The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.
The HERA XVII crew is made up of 2 men and 2 women, selected from the Johnson Space Center Test Subject Screening (TSS) pool. The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including criteria similar to what is used for astronaut selection. The four would-be astronauts are:
What will they be doing?
The crew are going on a simulated journey to an asteroid, a 715-day journey that we compress into 45 days. They will fly their simulated exploration vehicle around the asteroid once they arrive, conducting several site surveys before 2 of the crew members will participate in a series of virtual reality spacewalks.
They will also be participating in a suite of research investigations and will also engage in a wide range of operational and science activities, such as growing and analyzing plants and brine shrimp, maintaining and “operating” an important life support system, exercising on a stationary bicycle or using free weights, and sharpening their skills with a robotic arm simulation.
They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercise.
Mission: May 5 – June 18, 2018
But beware! While we do all we can to avoid crises during missions, crews need to be able to respond in the event of an emergency. The HERA crew will conduct a couple of emergency scenario simulations, including one that will require them to respond to a decrease in cabin pressure, potentially finding and repairing a leak in their spacecraft.
Throughout the mission, researchers will gather information about living in confinement, teamwork, team cohesion, mood, performance and overall well-being. The crew members will be tracked by numerous devices that each capture different types of data.
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.
While flying fast-moving jets, we practice the art of recovering from unusual attitudes. We close our eyes, and let the instructor put the jet in an unexpected attitude. Sometimes straight up, sometimes straight down, sometimes upside down, and sometimes anything in-between. The goal is to open our eyes, analyze the situation and make rapid and smooth corrections to power and attitude to effect a speedy recovery to straight and level flight without departing controlled flight, or having to endure high G’s, or experiencing big losses of altitude.
Sometimes, when I crawl into my crew quarters on the space station, it is very dark – just like closing our eyes in the jet. And then, as I sleep, my body floats around and changes position. When I awake in total darkness, I have to figure out what attitude I am in relative to my crew quarters and then right myself. “Unusual Attitude Recovery” can be pretty funny. And sometimes, my heart can get pumping as I awake and realize I don’t know what my attitude is. I execute my procedures to figure out what my attitude is, and then correct it. At first, it used to take me a while to realize. But now, it is second nature – and it always brings a smile to my face.
I did an interview with some students today, and I was asked a two-part question by one of the students. He asked, “What is the most exciting thing about being in space, and how did you keep yourself motivated to get there?”
I answered, “When you were very young, did you ever dream or wish you could fly? We all know it’s impossible, right? Imagine waking up one day and finding out you actually can fly! THAT is exciting! Now consider the contrary thought, what if you grew up and realized that flying wasn’t possible for humans, and you were at peace with this reality, and at peace shedding your childhood dream of flying? You will have several crossroads in your life, and you will have to decide which of these people you want to be. I too am amazed that I had the staying power to continue to dream as I did when I was a child. Words cannot describe how I feel when I fly through the International Space Station every day.”
The smoke detectors have been setting off alarms. This happens routinely due to dust circulating in the modules, but every alarm is taken seriously. This is the third time that the alarm has sounded while I was using the Waste & Hygiene Compartment (toilet). I am starting to think that my actions are causing the alarms…. maybe I should change my diet?
At 22:00, after initial “safing” and unpacking of Soyuz, we finally retired to our quarters. It was very hard to sleep, and I think the busy days leading us to the International Space Station (ISS) were beginning to take their toll. We were scheduled for a full day of work to include familiarization of safety equipment as well as beginning to prepare several science experiments for action.
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrived to ISS a couple days before we did, and its cargo included several experiments that needed to be conducted promptly upon arrival. I was doing a great job of floating from one module to another. Since I was a little behind schedule due to having to learn where everything is, I decided I could speed up my floating to be more expeditious. Well, we know how that usually goes and this time was no exception. I gathered a “bag of knots” (aviator slang for “going really fast”) and began a healthy transition from Node 2 into the Columbus module – where I predictably hit the top of my head. Ouch. The following three days (Tuesday-Saturday) were challenging as we worked to integrate all of our new knowledge and increase our efficiencies. The senior crew was very helpful and understanding. I was very grateful of how they managed our arrival and how they slowly passed down the information we needed to get started. Everything was different from life on Earth. Everything. We quickly figured out that we needed to think differently as we began to adapt to life in space. Drinking water, preparing food, eating food, using the toilet, working, physical training, etc., all different. I had a good handle on the differences and what to expect before I got there. But I didn’t expect that when operations got very busy that my reflexes would respond naturally as they did on Earth. The light bulb came on. I was going to have to move slower and think about everything before I took action. This is why space fliers new to this environment appear to be less efficient than most managers and/or operations planners would like. Adaptation to life in space takes time, and you can’t rush it.
On day three, I finally had the opportunity to look out the Cupola (window facing Earth). My Lord, what a beautiful sight. I could see the sun rising in front of us, darkness below and behind us, and a bright blue ring highlighting the curvature of the Earth as the sun began to rise. Absolutely amazing!
We wrapped up our busy week and celebrated Saturday night by enjoying some rehydrated meats and instant juices! Christmas Eve, we had a few tasks that kept us busy, and the same on Christmas Day. Fortunately, we were able to have video conferences with our families over the holiday, and it was really nice to talk with them. We also had a very short celebration for Christmas after work was done. Our wonderful Behavioral Health Professionals at NASA had sent us Christmas stockings in the SpaceX cargo delivery. I added the small gifts that I brought for the crew – superhero socks! Mark got Hulk socks, Nemo (Norishige Kanai) got Spiderman socks, Joe got Deadpool socks, Anton got Superman socks, and Sasha and I got Batman socks. NOW, we are ready to conquer space!
The launch went as planned. Our Soyuz spacecraft did a great job getting the three of us to the International Space Station (ISS).
A week later, it all seems like a blur. The bus driver played me a video of my family and friends delivering their good luck messages. After exiting the bus at the launch pad, I was fortunate to have the Soyuz chief designer (Roman) and NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) walk me to the stairs and elevator that would take us to the top of the rocket for boarding. The temperature at the pad was approximately -17 degrees centigrade, and we were wearing the Russian Polar Bear suits over our spacesuits in order to stay warm. Walking in these suits is a little hard, and I was happy to have Roman and Bill helping me.
We walked into the fog created by the systems around the rocket, climbed the ladder, and waved goodbye. My last words before launch were to Bill, “Boiler Up!”. Bill is a fellow and very well-known Boilermaker. We strapped in, and the launch and docking were nominal. But I will add that the second stage cutoff and separation, and ignition of the third stage was very exciting. We were under approximately 4 Gs when the engine cutoff, which gave us a good jolt forward during the deceleration and then a good jolt back into the seat after the third stage ignited. I looked at Anton and we both began to giggle like school children.
We spent two days in orbit as our phase angle aligned with ISS. Surprisingly, I did not feel sick. I even got 4 hours of sleep the first night and nearly 6 hours the second night. Having not been able to use my diaper while sitting in the fetal position during launch, it was nice to get out of our seats and use the ACY (Russian toilet). Docking was amazing. I compared it to rendezvousing on a tanker in a fighter jet, except the rendezvous with ISS happened over a much larger distance. As a test pilot, it was very interesting to watch the vehicle capture and maintain the centerline of ISS’s MRM-1 docking port as well as capturing and maintaining the required speed profile.
Just like landing at the ship, I could feel the vehicle’s control system (thrusters) making smaller and faster corrections and recorrections. In the flight test world, this is where the “gains” increase rapidly and where any weaknesses in the control system will be exposed. It was amazing to see the huge solar arrays and tons of equipment go by my window during final approach. What an engineering marvel the ISS is. Smooth sailing right into the docking port we went!
About an hour later, after equalizing pressures between the station and Soyuz, we opened the hatch and greeted our friends already onboard. My first view of the inside of the space station looked pretty close to the simulators we have been training in for the last several years. My first words were, “Hey, what are you guys doing at Building 9?”. Then we tackled each other with celebratory hugs!
Our crew just finished the final training event before the launch. Tomorrow, at 13:20 local time (Baikonur), we will strap the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft to our backs and fly it to low Earth orbit. We will spend 2.5 days in low Earth orbit before docking to the MRM-1 docking port on the International Space Station (ISS). There we will begin approximately 168 days of maintenance, service and science aboard one of the greatest engineering marvels that humans have ever created.
Today was bittersweet. Ending a 2-year process of intense training was welcomed by all of us. We are very tired. Seeing our families for the last time was difficult. I am pretty lucky, though. My wife, Raynette, and the kids have grown up around military service and are conditioned to endure the time spent apart during extended calls-to-duty. We are also very much anticipating the good times we will have upon my return in June. Sean and Amy showed me a few videos of them mucking it up at Red Square before flying out to Baikonur. Eric was impressed with the Russian guards marching in to relieve the watch at Red Square. Raynette was taking it all in stride and did not seem surprised by any of it. I think I might have a family of mutants who are comfortable anywhere. Nice! And, by the way, I am VERY proud of all of them!
Tomorrow’s schedule includes a wake-up at 04:00, followed by an immediate medical exam and light breakfast. Upon returning to our quarters, we will undergo a few simple medical procedures that should help make the 2.5-day journey to ISS a little more comfortable. I’ve begun prepping with motion sickness medication that should limit the nausea associated with the first phases of spaceflight. I will continue this effort through docking. This being my first flight, I’m not sure how my body will respond and am taking all precautions to maintain a good working capability. The commander will need my help operating the vehicle, and I need to not be puking into a bag during the busy times. We suit up at 09:30 and then report to the State Commission as “Готовы к Полёту”, or “Ready for Flight”. We’ll enter the bus, wave goodbye to our friends and family, and then head out to the launch pad. Approximately 2 kilometers from the launch pad, the bus will stop.
The crew will get out, pee on the bus’s tire, and then complete the last part of the drive to the launch pad. This is a traditional event first done by Yuri Gagarin during his historic first flight and repeated in his honor to this day. We will then strap in and prepare the systems for launch. Next is a waiting game of approximately 2 hours. Ouch. The crew provided five songs each to help pass the time. My playlist included “Born to Run” (Springsteen), “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns and Roses), “Cliffs of Dover” (Eric Johnson), “More than a Feeling” (Boston), and “Touch the Sky” (Rainbow Bridge, Russian). Launch will happen precisely at 13:20.
I think this sets the stage. It’s 21:30, only 6.5 hours until duty calls. Time to get some sleep. If I could only lower my level of excitement!
We will select between eight and 14 new astronaut candidates from among a record-breaking applicant class of more than 18,300, almost three times the number of applications the agency received in 2012 for the recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.
The candidates will be announced at an event at our Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas at 2 p.m. EDT on June 7. You can find more information on how to watch the announcement HERE.
1. What are the qualifications for becoming an astronaut?
Applicants must meet the following minimum requirements before submitting an application.
Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics.
Degree must be followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft
There have been 22 classes of astronauts selected from the original “Mercury Seven” in 1959 to the most recent 2017 class. Other notable classes include:
The fourth class in 1965 known as “The Scientists: because academic experience was favored over pilot skills.
The eighth class in 1978 was a huge step forward for diversity, featuring the first female, African American and Asian American selections.
The 16th class in 1996 was the largest class yet with 44 members – 35 U.S. astronauts and 9 international astronauts. They were selected for the frequent Space Shuttle flights and the anticipated need for International Space Station crewmembers.
The 21st class in 2013 was the first class to have 50/50 gender split with 4 female members and 4 male members.
These astronauts will be part of expanded crews aboard the space station that will significantly increase the crew time available to conduct the important research and technology demonstrations that are advancing our knowledge for missions farther into space than humans have gone before, while also returning benefits to Earth. They will also be candidates for missions beyond the moon and into deep space aboard our Orion spacecraft on flights that help pave the way for missions to Mars.
5. What will their roles be?
After completing two years of general training, these astronaut candidates will be considered full astronauts, eligible to be assigned spaceflight missions. While they wait for their turn, they will be given duties within the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center. Technical duties can range from supporting current missions in roles such as CAPCOM in Mission Control, to advising on the development of future spacecraft.
6. What will their training look like?
The first two years of astronaut candidate training will focus on the basic skills astronauts need. They’ll practice for spacewalks in Johnson’s 60-foot deep swimming pool, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which requires SCUBA certification. They’ll also simulate bringing visiting spacecraft in for a berthing to the space station using its robotic arm, Canadarm2, master the ins and outs of space station system and learn Russian.
And, whether they have previous experience piloting an aircraft of not, they’ll learn to fly our fleet of T-38s. In addition, they’ll perfect their expeditionary skills, such as leadership and fellowship, through activities like survival training and geology treks.
7. What kinds of partners will they work with?
They will join a team that supports missions going on at many different NASA centers across the country, but they’ll also interact with commercial partners developing spaceflight hardware. In addition, they will work with our international partners around the globe: ESA (the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.
8. How does the selection process work?
All 18,353 of the applications submitted were reviewed by human resources experts to determine if they met the basic qualifications. Those that did were then each reviewed by a panel of about 50 people, made up primarily of current astronauts. Called the Astronaut Rating Panel, that group narrowed to applicants down to a few hundred of what they considered the most highly qualified individuals, whose references were then checked.
From that point, a smaller group called the Astronaut Selection Board brought in the top 120 applicants for an intense round of interviews and some initial medical screening tests. That group is further culled to the top 50 applicants afterward, who are brought back for a second round of interviews and additional screening. The final candidates are selected from that group.
9. How do they get notified?
Each applicant selected to become an astronaut receives a phone call from the head of the Flight Operations Directorate at our Johnson Space Center and the chief of the astronaut office. They’re asked to share the good news with only their immediate family until their selection has been officially announced.
10. How does the on boarding process work?
Astronaut candidates will report for duty at Johnson Space Center in August 2017, newly fitted flight suits in tow, and be sworn into civil service. Between their selection and their report for duty, they will make arrangements to leave their current positions and relocate with their family to Houston, Texas.