Ansari blog provides insight into life aboard space station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: September 25, 2006
Space tourist Anousheh Ansari's space blog is giving armchair tourists on Earth a unique, non-professional's view of spaceflight, including the trials of space sickness and the unique thrill of living and working in weightlessness 220 miles up.
Ansari, the fourth space tourist and the first woman to pay some $20 million for a trip to the international space station, blasted off aboard a Soyuz spacecraft Sept. 18 with incoming Expedition 14 commander Mike Lopez-Alegria and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, commander of the cramped capsule.
During the two days it took to reach the space station, Ansari wrote that she suffered from the classic symptoms of space adaptation syndrome: back pain and a fluid shift frequently accompanied by nausea. About half the men and women who fly in space get sick during the first few days of weightlessness, but the symptoms usually disappear after a few days.
NASA astronauts seldom discuss space sickness or other medical issues, but Ansari's blog entry describing the Soyuz flight to the station was unusuallyl frank.
"So here I was with a Big Headache, pain in my back and nausea," she wrote. "I told myself, 'This is not a good start - what if I feel like this the entire time!' After vomiting a couple of times, I decided to go for the big guns...
"The flight surgeon had packed some motion sickness injections to be used as needed. I figured I really needed it, so I asked Mike and Misha to give me a shot. They consulted on the instruction given to them and decided on half of the medication to be injected. Mike prepared the syringe and Misha administered it. They were both so worried about me and wanted to do something to make me feel better. I felt bad for ruining their first Soyuz flight...
"It did not take long for the injection to put me to sleep. Misha prepared my sleeping bag for me. This time I asked to be rolled in a small area so I could be in a fetus position. It seemed to make my lower back pain better. He also recommended that I have my head pressed against one of the cargo bags to help with my Headache. I rolled up in my sleeping bag with my head pushed against the cargo and spent most of the day sleeping. I would occasionally open my eyes and see Misha and Mike moving about. They asked me couple of times if I wanted to eat anything or needed anything. they checked my temperature and made sure that I was not getting worse."
In an interview today with CBS News, Lopez-Alegria said Ansari's symptoms were not at all unusual.
"I don't know what the percentages are, but I would say the majority of at least first-time space fliers have that syndrome," he said. "So we did give her a couple of injections and basically, it makes you very sleepy and I think she was happiest when she was asleep."
Ansari wrote that as soon as she floated aboard the space station, "I felt like I was home. I felt 100 percent better... I had a hard time keeping myself from smiling... I could not believe it... I made it to my destination... I was finally home."
Ansari is scheduled to return to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft Sept. 28, accompanied by outgoing Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineer Jeff Williams. Lopez-Alegria, Tyurin and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter will remain aboard the outpost as its 14th full time crew.
"Visiting space for a short while is one thing but staying on for half a year is another," Ansari wrote. "You are a long way from your family and friends, and except for emails and short duration phone calls, you donąt have anyone else to talk to except your other crewmates.
"I guess those of you in college and living in a dormitory can relate to it. There is one big difference though... When you get sick of your roommate you just step out and go walk for (a) while or talk to someone else or sleep someplace else. Here, if you donąt like your roommate, there is nowhere to go. The next ride home arrives in six months and you better work on your interpersonal relationships.
"But I must say, I have been absolutely amazed at how wonderful the astronauts and cosmonauts are," Ansri wrote. "I donąt know how they get selected. Maybe they are all, like me, from planet K-PAX (sorry if you have not seen the movie you wonąt get this!) But they are really intelligent, warm-hearted, peaceful individuals. Everyone I met in Star City and up here can be called superhumans... I honestly think we should get astronauts to run for presidency... they are great leaders with a unique perspective on the World!"
Williams told CBS News today that next to seeing his family again, he's mostly looking forward to some peace and quiet after returning to Earth later this week ,.
"Six months is a long time and when you approach about the three-month point, you think it's never going to end," he said. "But now that we're just a couple of days before leaving, it almost seems like it's gone by fast. I guess that's the way a lot of things are in life.
"I guess I'm missing the most, of course outside the family, the things that we often take for granted. You cannot get to a place that's completely quiet here, you always have fans and pumps running in the background. So I'm looking forward to quiet. I'm also looking forward to the smells of nature outside, the smells of trees and grass and that sort of thing. So it's all those little things in life that we take for granted that I'm looking forward to the most."
For his part, Lopez-Alegria said the station seemed like "a pretty decent home" and that he's enjoyed poking around with Williams "finding all the neat stuff that's in there."
Before launch, Lopez-Alegria said he initially opposed the space tourism program but eventually came around to supporting it because the money it brings into the Russian space program helps that agency keep its end of the station program going. He said meeting Ansari and some of her predecessors convinced him they can play a valuable role.
In November, Tyurin will hit a golf ball during a spacewalk as part of a commercial arrangement to promote a golf club. Asked if he supported that level of commercial activity in space, Lopez-Alegria said "that's a tough call."
"I did do a little bit of an about face on the space tourism thing, I think it was in large part because of the good I see being done by people like Anousheh and her predecessors. I think the sort of commercialization of time, of use of time of astronauts and cosmonauts, is a little bit of another step for me. I'm not quite there yet.
"So we'll just leave it at that," he said. "We'll see how it goes, we'll see if we, NASA and the Russian space agency, get the kind of benefit that isn't just monetary out of it and if that is true, then maybe I'll turn around on that one, too."
Asked what advice he had given Lopez-Alegria about living for half-year in space, Williams said one of the keys is not taking things too seriously.
"Sometimes we have a tendency if we make mistakes to try to kick ourselves for it," he said. "Over six months, you're going to make mistakes and you can't do that, you've got to take them in stride and You can't run it like a sprint, you've got to run it like a marathon. So those are the two general pieces of advice I would give."