André Kuipers' diary – Part 1: Back in the Netherlands for scientific experiments
31 november - 4 december 2003 I visited ESTEC, the technical centre of the European Space Agency, in Noordwijk, this week. Together with my Russian fellow cosmonauts and the reserve crew for my mission, I was taught about the experiments that we are going to carry out on board the Space Station. Performing scientific research is one of the mission's most important objectives, and this means knowing in advance exactly what we need to do.
The people at ESTEC are busy testing the experiment hardware. For example, they are establishing whether they can withstand the powerful vibrations of the launch. They do this by putting them on a large, vibrating table and then giving them a really good shaking.
Also, ESA checks that the experiments will not release any dangerous gases into the Space Station. If something like that happens here on Earth it is not so bad, because there is adequate ventilation or you can open a window. But in space, of course, things are different; up there, you do not want certain substances accumulating in the atmosphere because it is very difficult to remove them.
One of the experiments that I will be taking with me is a plasma lamp developed by Philips and the Technical University in Eindhoven. This lamp is more energy-efficient than others and it also produces more light. On Earth, however, it is somewhat unstable; it flickers. I am going to study the lamps in space, without the disruptive influence of gravity. In this way, Philips and the T.U. in Eindhoven hope to find a solution to the flickering.
It has been a busy week, with many working visits and frequent interviews and meetings in between. The nice thing about it is that I frequently meet people with whom I have previously worked when I was still a researcher. In Soesterberg, for example, Wubbo Ockels dropped in to see me.
When I worked in Soesterberg, I was a regular test subject in the centrifuge there. This week, I was back in it again for medical tests. I listen to some music whilst spinning around for an hour at three times the force of normal gravity. I am so used to it by now that I sometimes just fall asleep.
I kept Wednesday evening free for an evening out in Amsterdam with the Russian cosmonauts, the trainers and the doctors. That was a great success. They thought it was wonderful to be out on the town for a while and eat Dutch pancakes for a change.
Last update: 16 February 2004