Christer Fuglesang's newsletter - Houston, 23 November 2006

Tricia had made a special cake for our last spacewalk practice

Happy Thanksgiving!

It is a major holiday in the USA today: Thanksgiving. It is an important family celebration when you give thanks for America and eat turkey. It is the biggest holiday weekend for travel during the year in the USA and according to the radio three percent of the population are expected to travel to family and friends.

My daughter Denise did, she drove down from her college in the north of Texas yesterday. NASA naturally observed the holiday and, like many others, squeezed in even Friday as a day off.

I will be working at half speed at home, however, with the preparations that still have to be done: everything from going through training notes to helping my wife Lisa with sending out emails to guests who are coming to the launch in two weeks.

In addition I have to start packing spare travel bags with clothes as NASA want to have these available in the case of us landing somewhere other than in Florida. As it is the last weekend before we go into quarantine, however, in exactly one week, I'll be spending most of the time with the children and Lisa.

Yesterday we carried out the very last spacewalk practice exercise in the pool. It went, for the most part, really well and now it will be really exciting to see what it is like in reality – in weightlessness.

Suni in Destiny (the USA’s laboratory module on the ISS) during loading practice

Above all working out on the corner of P4 when we prepare P5 for the connection to P4. Suni stops the robot arm when there are 20 cm still to go, so that Beamer and I can take away the plastic casings over the bolts that are there to protect them against damage during the launch itself.

In the pool I have had to work on the corner that faces downwards and I lie slanted downwards on my back, at the same time that I must be extra careful not to bump into an electrical box that lies immediately next to me, while Beamer has had the luxury of lying on his stomach and working downwards in unobstructed space. It has been difficult every time, but it should be easier (and fairer ) in a weightless environment.

I went through my notes and counted the number of times I have been in the spacewalk-suits in the pool, in order to train for STS-116: 48 times since the summer of 2002. It is almost 250 hours in total; approximately twice as many as were planned before the Columbia accident.

It isn't a record, however: STS-114 that was the first flight after Columbia performed over 70 practice sessions in the pool. When we came out of the pool yesterday there were a couple of rounds of cake, speeches of thanks and photographs with many of those who have been working with us there for several years.

Otherwise there has been a little of everything this week:

  • Practice with the amateur radio on the ISS; we hope to be able to up-link with a Swedish school on occasion.

  • A review of all of the procedure manuals with the opportunity to make personal notes in them, which took a whole morning.

  • Loading practice i.e. how we will handle all the things that will be transferred over to the ISS and those that will be brought back, as well as some that will be replaced – it sounds trivial, but to get all of the hundreds of objects, boxes, sacks etc. into exactly the right place in the crowded area is not easy.

Even now, far away and in my final preparations, I am surprised about how much interest there is in Sweden about the flight. I saw that both SVT and TV4 plan to broadcast the launch live. It is fantastic, especially considering the ungodly hour in Sweden, 03:38; in the middle of the night. Terrific that the interest is so great! Lisa and I are also very positively surprised by how many friends and acquaintances are thinking of coming the whole way over the Atlantic to be present; a couple of hundred, as well as many friends in the USA.

Joanie is 'cargo master' and has to keep all the paperwork in order so that the loading happens properly

Next week starts with a major health examination on Monday morning. Then Joanie and I will have a last 'bench review', that is examine some of the last things that will be stowed away with us on our Shuttle.

On Thursday 30 November we go into quarantine. At that point I am also thinking of stopping these newsletters that I started to write at the time of being selected for the mission STS-116/ISS-12A.1. They became a few more than planned but I would like already in this penultimate letter to thank all of you who have followed the training and preparations for STS-116, through both success and set-back.

Best wishes,

Christer

Last update: 29 November 2006

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