David Wolf - Letters Home
Subject: Next time, I will bring a good book
You may have read about our internal "spacewalk" into the damaged Spektr module that took place up here. Our objective was to increase the station's electrical power by connecting the electronic control lines to command the solar arrays on Spektr to track the Sun. We spent two days meticulously converting the central "docking node" into an airlock. This node is the common pathway connecting all the modules of the station, including the entrance to our emergency re-entry vehicle, the Soyuz. In order to enter Spektr, we first had to evacuate this critical "docking node" to vacuum so that the pressure was equalized on both sides of the Spektr hatch, allowing it to be opened. I think you can figure out where I am going with this.
In the event that we were unable to repressurize this "node," there would be no way for any of us to get to the Soyuz emergency re-entry vehicle, not to mention the fact that there would be no airlock available for the cosmonauts to come back inside.
The Soyuz itself has two sections. I configured the section directly attached to the docking node as a secondary airlock. Just like Mike Foale before me, I entered the Soyuz vehicle and closed the hatch behind me (which is connected to the docking node), before the cosmonauts depressurized the node. Then I configured the valves, which control the pressure in this area, so that they could be remotely controlled from inside the Soyuz "descent module." This "descent module" section (of the Soyuz) is accessible through yet another hatch. I then went into this "descent module" section, and closed that hatch behind me and brought up the life support and communication systems which supply oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Then I got serious. I opened up the package of macadamia nuts I brought with me and sat there locked tight for almost eight hours. I learned an invaluable lesson. Next time, I will bring a good book.
This descent module is a lot like our old Apollo capsules. This is where we keep our spacesuits at all times in the event we need to make an emergency evacuation. During the EVA, all three of us have direct communications with each other and the Earth (through a Russian satellite). Each of us has a backup airlock, and, everyone always has access to the re-entry vehicle at all times, even if the node cannot be repressurized. Pretty tricky, huh?
The Soyuz is an amazing vehicle which comes straight out of Jules Verne. An absolutely beautiful piece of hand craftsmanship. Very ooyootnie (cozy) with wood-grained control handles and those beautiful ivory keys again. As I write, It waits, fueled and ready to bring us back to Earth. One request: please don't use my endorsement of the Soyuz as implying that I want to cancel my return reservation. I'd still like to come home on the shuttle.
I sure do miss you guys.