André Kuipers' diary – Part 6: Testing the spacesuit
15 - 21 januari 2004 This week I learnt how to work with the Space Station inventory. Every single item up there is recorded in a computer database. In the database, you can search by name, weight and all kinds of other criteria. Finding something is an art in itself, especially with all those Russian names and abbreviations. If you use something and then don't put it back in the same place, you have to alter the database as well. In that way, future crews can easily find everything.
In order to practise, I looked up the DELTA Mission experiments. I found that they were not in the database yet. That is logical enough, because they are only going to the Station at the end of this month, with a Progress cargo ship. There were items recorded for Pedro Duque's Spanish mission, 'Cervantes', and Frank de Winne's Belgian mission, 'Odissea', even the waste, which is now lying in the Progress until it burns up, cargo ship and all, in the Earth's atmosphere.
Russian is the main language during the mission, so I have a Russian lesson every week. My teacher is also a lecturer at the University of Moscow. The lessons are given on a one-to-one basis in a classroom, just like at school. We just use textbooks and a blackboard or whiteboard, on which she writes the most important things.
For the first quarter of the lesson, I have to talk about my experiences in Russian. That is a very useful exercise. We also use Russian songs or newspaper articles about space travel, which we then analyse. I have brought two videotapes from Holland. One is about Amsterdam and the other is about the Netherlands, but the voiceover for both is in Russian. They are intended for Russian tourists in the Netherlands, but they are excellent material for my lessons. In this way, I learn something more about the language, while my teacher learns something about the Netherlands. She really enjoys that.
Last weekend I went cross-country skiing with a colleague from ESA. Here in Moscow, there is beautiful white snow on the ground for six months of the year. A few hours of each working week are allocated to sport. There is a gymnasium, with coaching available if you want it, a swimming pool and sports halls. I do not take part in any competitive sports now, because they involve too much risk. It has occasionally happened that someone sprained an ankle just before his flight. Of course, I do not want that to happen to me.
However, cross-country skiing around Star City is fine. I put the skis on outside my apartment and then I just have to go through the gate and into the woods. It is wonderful, skiing past little lakes and along the tracks between the trees. The trainers mark out paths, but it snows so heavily here that you soon have to find your own way. It is easy to get lost. Sometimes I take a GPS receiver with me so that I am sure that I can find my way back.
On Wednesday I visited the factory where the spacesuits are made. The factory is in Tomlino, an hour's drive from Moscow. We did the final tests on the spacesuit in order to ensure that everything fits like a glove. It feels a bit like wearing a diving suit, with your head in a fishbowl. Everything is made to measure, just like the chair that I sit on. I had to sit in a plaster-of-Paris mould for this some time ago.
Everything was already prepared, because I trained as the reserve for my Spanish colleague, Pedro Duque. Nevertheless, the suit and the seat still had to be tested again. Imagine what would happen if you put on weight during your holiday, and they didn't fit anymore. We made a few small adjustments, to the length of the spacesuit's sleeves for example, because my fingertips were touching the end of the gloves. Now it feels fine. Another hurdle passed on the way to the mission…