The Mission Operators. A gang of 25-35-year-olds, incredibly talented, outlandishly tattooed
For the first time - at the end of October we were on board SpaceX - the complete crew - Mike, Larry, Mark and myself. Mike arranged the seating order in Dragon, me in seat one, Mike in two, Larry in three and Mark in four. Below the seats is space for equipment, and there is storage space covering all of the spacecraft walls. It’s a crowded place and access to the cabinets and the bags inside them is not easy. It is also important to return everything to its place in order to maintain the spacecraft’s balance.
Training focused on getting to know the space, the equipment and systems inside it and to practice emergencies such as a fire, pressure drop and other agents of disaster. Another time we repeated these exercises, only this time wearing our pressure suits. It’s a bit embarrassing to describe how cumbersome it is to put on and take off these suits in the cramped surroundings in the capsule, by the four of us, none of whom are particularly lithe. We practiced how to help one another and we divided the necessary tasks between us. The “pressure” in the “pressure suits” precisely describes the state of mind of anyone wearing these suits. It climaxes while switching from the NBC gas mask to putting on the helmet. The earplugs spared us the sound of our trainers’ chuckling.
These earplugs are like nothing you’ve ever seen. In our case, they actually poured the sealing agent into our ear canals. Unpleasant, plus in my case they overdid it so the plastic gook stuck to my eardrum. The slow, painful task of extracting the plugs brought tears to my eyes and lasted for half an hour that seemed like an eternity.
We met Sarah, Mike and a few other folks in the group of mission operators. This gang of 25-35-year-olds, incredibly talented, outlandishly tattooed youngsters will be sitting in the control center. It’ll be their soothing voices we are going to be hearing over the communication system.
I’ve told you already about the guys from the Inspiration 4 mission, that were forced to relieve themselves in diapers throughout their three-day mission. The SpaceX technical crew explained that the urine tube had ruptured and that the plumber’s line was busy... In any case, we received an exhaustive explanation about the toilet malfunction and they promised to fix the system for the next flights.
Gwynne Shotwell, the charismatic manager of SpaceX, came to greet us. According to her, it seems our launch is going to be on schedule. “It is important to us that your mission should be a success and that you’ll have a good experience”, she said, and added that “space flight is dangerous” and that “we are doing everything we can to reduce the risks”. This was my opportunity to mention that space flights in Israel have seen their share of ups and downs. About launching spacecraft, we took quite a blow when the Israeli communications satellite Amos 6 was completely destroyed when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle exploded on September 1, 2016. two days before it was supposed to be launched into Earth orbit. And as for manned space travel, this is still inseparably linked to the Columbia space shuttle disaster in February 2003. Shotwell was surprised to learn that since the Columbia there have been no other Israeli astronauts.
Without a doubt the highlight of our visit to SpaceX was a game of snooker in a grungy pub named Hercules, together with Shir, Garrett, Uri, plenty of excellent beer and hamburgers. Garrett shared experiences from life on board the Space Station, for example how to play ball, or that socks have their soles on the top part of the foot and that everybody has trouble sleeping. And an important tip: Before going out for a spacewalk - plan your grip point for the landing.
It’s been a super week.