Yuri’s Night

Yuri’s Night

Fifty-six years ago Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly in space. That flight was relatively brief, a few orbits for a lone man cramped within a little bubble of light and warmth and life. The flight of Vostok 1 was as much a milestone as the Wright Brothers flight and Lindbergh’s solo crossing of the Atlantic. After Gagarin came more flights, the first spacewalk by Alexei Leonov, and of course the manned landing on the Moon by Armstrong and Aldrin.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke once said that he had shaken hands with the first man to fly in space, the first space-walker, and the first to trod the dusty surface of the Moon. He also strongly believed that in the long run of history it would not matter that two were Russian and one was American. The promise of a human future was bigger and better than mere nationalism. I hope he was right.

And since April 12, 1961 we’ve continued to explore our farther horizons. This has included Vostok and Salyut and Gemini and Apollo and Mir and Shuttle and Progress and Soyuz and, of course, an International Space Station where men and women of many nations work together. Happy Yuri’s Night everyone!

Note on photo: A recent image from Izzy. A Soyuz and Progress freighter docked to the station.

The Workaday Spacewalk

The Workaday Spacewalk

As I write two astronauts are performing a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station. I like to call the ISS “Izzy.” This was a nickname for the station used throughout the novel Seveneves by author Neal Stephenson.  I try to catch the daily updates from Izzy. I find it all very interesting. Currently serving aboard are 6 explorers: 3 Russian cosmonauts named Andrey Borisenko, Sergey Ryzihkov, and Oleg Novitskiy, a French astronaut named Thomas Pesquet, and 2 American astronauts. Currently the spacewalk features the 2 Americans: Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson. Just before lunchtime (EST) Peggy Whitson broke the record for most accumulated spacewalk time for a female astronaut. That’s amazing and I wonder if such records will always be kept.

I’m watching a livestream courtesy of NASA TV. Its nice to full screen it and see all the happenings via the astronauts’ helmet cams. While I hammer out LabVIEW code I pick up voices and glance at images. Their EVA work seems at times strenuous, detail-oriented, and intense. But what is striking me today is how workaday it all seems. I’ve read that astronauts make it all look “easy” because of their long hours of training. I’m sure as in most things practice makes perfect. Yet from my vicarious view over the shoulder of each astronaut today’s deployment of protective covers seems like a routine task being undertaken by two focused yet almost casual professionals. And that sense of normalcy is pretty cool. It’s nice to watch an event where rationality, eagerness, and common-sense rule.

Not that today’s spacewalk was not without incident. One of the covers that was to be deployed went adrift. On the Izzy Cam it became a receding dot against the dark, starless sky. There was brief talk about going to retrieve it but that was ruled out. The tracking team noted it was in a position ahead of the station and poses no “re-contact hazard.” I think that means the lost cover will not become a thing that goes bump in the night.

The team on the ground worked with existing hardware to put together a Plan B. They need to cover up a section of the station’s docking adapter. They opted to use the bag that the covers come in. Shane and Peggy were pretty quick to adapt what materials they had to get the job done. Listening in, the casual viewer might not have known that anything had gone awry. No worries, I heard Shane say. Pretty cool.

The spacewalk continues and my workaday salad is now depleted. Back to the lab with me as Peggy, Shane, and company circle the Earth. Keep up the good work, you guys!