Six seconds to start. The engines started, and we were pushed forward under the influence of this new powerful force applied to the ship, which first tilted slightly to the side, and then again stretched vertically into a string. At this moment in the cab there is a powerful vibration and a loud noise. The sensation, as if a huge dog grabbed us with its jaws and trembles, and then, pacified by a giant invisible master, spat out us right in the sky, away from Earth. A sense of magic, victory, dreams.
And there is a feeling that a huge truck at maximum speed just hit us in the side. But this is normal, as expected, we were warned that this will happen. I just continued to keep my eyes open, scrolled through my tables and checklists in my head, kept my eyes on the buttons and bulbs above my head, looked at computer monitors for signals of problems, and tried not to blink. The launch tower was already behind us for a long time, and we roared up with a roar, pressed into our seats with increasing force,
while the fuel of our rocket burned and it became lighter. After 45 seconds, the rocket overcame the speed of sound. After another 30, we flew higher and faster than the Concord: we reached a Mach number of two, and continued to gain momentum. Like a race car, only many times cooler.
I'm in space, weightless and to get here, it took only 8 minutes and 42 seconds. Well, plus several thousand days of preparation
Two minutes after the start, we rushed at a speed of about six times the speed of sound, and when the first stage of the accelerator departed, we rushed up with a new force. I was completely focused on controlling the parameters, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed how the color of the sky changed from light blue to dark blue, and then black.
Then silence suddenly came: we reached Mach number 25, orbital speed, the engines gradually stopped, and I noticed how a few dust particles slowly floated up. Up. I digressed for a few seconds from my checklists and watched them soar in the air and then freeze, instead of crashing to the floor. I felt like a small child, a magician, the happiest person. I am in space, weightless, and it took me only 8 minutes and 42 seconds to get here. Well, plus a few thousand days of preparation.
Sometimes, when people find out that I am an astronaut, they ask: "What do you do when you don’t fly into space?" They got the impression that between the starts we mostly spend time in the waiting rooms in Houston and take a breath before the next start. Usually astronauts are heard when they are already in space or are about to go there, so this impression is not without reason. It always seems to me that I disappoint people when I tell them the truth: we spend almost all our working life in training on Earth.
Over the years, I had to play many roles, ranging from a member of various commissions to the head of the control center of the International Space Station in Houston. The longest work in the ground services, which I had to do and which I think I brought a lot of benefit, is a communications operator - an employee of the ground space service, conducting negotiations with astronauts in orbit from the flight control center. The communication operator acts as the main channel of information between the control center and astronauts in orbit, and its work is an endless test, similar to a crossword puzzle that grows at the same speed with which you fill it.
When in April 2011 I again flew into space as part of the STS-100 mission, I already had a much fuller idea of the entire complex mosaic of space flight, and not just my small role in it. I will not deceive that I would not be happy to have the chance to go into space earlier (it is clear that American astronauts had priority in the distribution of shuttle flights, because these spaceships were produced in the United States and belonged to the American state).
Going into outer space is almost like climbing a mountain, lifting a barbell, fixing a small machine and performing an intricate ballet stage,
and all this at the same time, while being packed into a bulky spacesuit that peels off fingers and collarbones. With zero gravity, many simple tasks become incredibly difficult. Even just turning a wrench to tighten the bolt can be as difficult as changing a wheel on a car while ice skating with goalkeeper gloves on hand.
Go into outer space - it's almost like climbing a mountain, lifting a barbell, fixing a small machine and performing an intricate ballet pas, and all this at the same time
Therefore, each spacewalk becomes the result of many years of well-coordinated efforts of hundreds of people and inconspicuous hard work spent in order to make sure that all the details and accidents are excluded. Over-planning is necessary here, since working overboard is always dangerous. You risk being in a vacuum that is completely incompatible with life. If trouble happens, you cannot just rush back to the ship.
For years, I practiced zero gravity in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which is essentially a huge pool in Johnson's Space Center. The experience I gained in my first space flight and while working at the Mission Control Center taught me how to better prioritize, how to determine what is really important and what would be nice to know. What it means to be outside the ISS, how to move around the station so as not to break anything, how to repair and configure equipment in real time are the main things that I needed to understand. In training in the pool, I had to work out every step and every action to automatism. That was my task.
In 2001, I became the Director of Operations for NASA in Russia. In those days, most American astronauts were not eager to get such a job. Some were embarrassed by past contradictions and tensions between the two countries, others were not enthusiastic about having to face a foreign culture (where even the alphabet is completely different), fierce winters and the lack of modern devices that make life more comfortable, such as dishwashers or dryers for clothes. But for a Canadian who successfully adapted to the slowness of Texas speech and humidity
In the northern Gulf of Mexico, the opportunity to live in another foreign country for several years seemed very exciting, so I was happy to receive this appointment. I wanted to make the most of the time I spent there, so Helen and I went for additional Russian language courses (our three children studied at Canadian boarding schools and universities at that time). Helen switched to distant work in Houston, so she could spend almost every month with me in Star City, a training center for astronauts, located about an hour from Moscow. In Starry, NASA built several individual town houses for the Americans, and we could move to one of them. But instead, we settled in an ordinary Russian apartment building, deciding that in this way we would have more opportunities to get to know the country and its people.
While Volodya and I watched football, we slaughtered 70 kilograms of meat, drained a bag of onions and tomatoes to salads and drank everything that was in the house
And so it happened. We had to speak a lot of Russian. My neighbors and I had great parties with music, dancing and cooking barbecue together - a very tasty Russian version of the barbecue. I remember how one of the local drivers, Volodya, decided to initiate me into the mystical process of choosing, slicing and cooking meat for barbecue. It took half a day, and then another two days it took me to recover. We blessed meat with vodka, Moldavian cognac raised a toast for the whole
the pig’s pedigree, sipped Russian beer until they cut the unfrozen pork into slices, poured red wine into the marinade and into ourselves, and by the end of the day we made emotional speeches about the beauty of raw meat and male friendly bonds. While Volodya and I watched football on a grainy 10-inch television screen, we cut out 70 kilograms of meat, dragged a bag of onions and tomatoes to salads, into which we added several bunches of different chopped herbs and seasonings, and drank everything that was in the house. By the end of the evening, five crowded buckets with chopped pork, which
was supposed to fry the next day on fire. We became almost one family (which turned out to be very handy, because I forgot all my things at Volodya’s house: a coat, hat, camera and keys). And I remained proud of myself, because in the bus that drove me home, I could restrain myself, and I did not vomit. Well, the best, time-tested recipe for cooking barbecue, which we followed so carefully, remained a secret for me, because I do not remember at all what and how exactly we did.
Many of the techniques I mastered were quite simple, but at the same time unexpected and illogical, in some cases similar to a witty aphorism, turned upside down. Astronauts are taught that the best way to reduce stress is to worry about the little things. We are taught to look at everything from the worst side and to imagine the worst that can happen. In fact, when training on simulators, the most common question that we learn to ask ourselves is: "Well, and what will be the next reason I can die?" We also learn that acting as an astronaut means, among other things, helping each other's families during the launch: bring them food, fulfill their instructions, keep handbags and run for napkins. Of course, we mainly study complex technical things, but some of them are surprisingly earthly. Each astronaut will be able to repair a clogged toilet - we constantly have to do this in space. And each of us knows how to pack things carefully and meticulously - the Soyuz taught us this, where up to one piece of baggage must be fixed in a strictly defined way, otherwise the ship’s weight distribution and balance will be violated.
People got the idea that it must be very scary to be in a rocket with engines roaring and spewing flame. Of course, if you
pulled out of the street, pushed into a rocket and say that there are four minutes left before the start, and so, by the way, they will warn that one of your wrong moves will destroy you and everyone else - yes, it will be very scary. But they trained me for years, numerous expert groups helped me think through,
how to deal with almost any conceivable situation that could happen between takeoff and landing, so I’m not afraid. Like any astronaut, I participated in such a large number of very realistic simulations of space flight that when, in the end, the engines started and roared for real, my main feeling was not fear at all. I was relieved - finally.
I'm still afraid to stand on the edge of the abyss. However on an airplane or
in a spaceship I'm sure,
that won't fall down
In my experience, fear arises when you don’t know what to expect, and you doubt that you can control what is happening. If you understand what to fear, then you no longer feel helpless and are much less afraid. But when there is not enough information, everything seems dangerous. I am very familiar with this feeling, because I am afraid of heights. When I stand on the edge of a cliff or look down from the balcony of a high-rise building, my stomach begins to boil, my palms sweat, and my legs refuse to go despite the growing panic that requires me to return to a safe place immediately. Nevertheless, this physiological reaction does not bother me at all. I think everyone should be afraid of heights. This is just a healthy sense of self-preservation, as well as fear of pythons or rabid bulls.
But I admit that for an astronaut or a pilot the fear of heights is somehow not appropriate and even ridiculous. How will I work if even a climb to a height causes primitive fear in me? And the answer is simple: I learned not to pay at my own risk
attention. I'm still afraid to stand on the edge of the abyss. However, in an airplane or in a spaceship, I am sure that I will not fall down, although I know that I am at a great height. Wings, the design of the aircraft, engines, speed - all this keeps me at a height just like the earth’s surface keeps below on Earth. Knowledge and experience make me feel relatively comfortable at my best.
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