“It is not a day that will make the difference over six months of mission”French astronaut Jean-François Clervoy explained on franceinfo Sunday, November 7 about the return of astronaut Thomas Pesquet, already postponed three times because of bad weather conditions in Florida where the crew must land. This expectation is “not painful” because astronauts know it “the reasons”, according to the astronaut who adds that these delays are frequent in this type of mission, and that they in no way compromise the return procedures.
franceinfo: Coming back down after more than six months of space is getting ready. How do we manage all these hazards?
Jean-François Clervoy: We know in advance that it can happen. Besides, we are formatted for this as an astronaut and we know in advance that it will not go as planned. At this stage of the mission, not one day will make the difference over six months. It’s bonus time to relax, gaze at the land, and have nothing else to do but wait for the moment the separation operation begins.
Isn’t this wait too painful?
The wait is painful when you do not know, when you are in the unknown. However, we give them the reasons for the wait. We give them all the information on the new orbit parameters, separation and reflections on the different zones. There are six zones east and west of Florida possible and so we are waiting but we know. It’s like you, when you are in an airport, on the train, we don’t like to be waiting without knowing why. But as soon as you are explained why, it’s always easier to accept.
Does this wait have an impact on the physical preparation linked to the return?
Indeed, in the case of a long flight, it is very important to do about two hours of sport per day every day to keep the body in good cardiovascular shape. So we probably schedule them one or two hours of sport on those extra days if they want to. And it is very likely because we want to be in good shape on the return, because we feel very heavy and very disturbed in the sense of balance. The inner ear, what is called the vestibular system which informs you of the sense of vertical, of the orientation even with closed eyes, no longer works and it can cause nausea, dizziness. We know it’s going to happen.
How do you prepare for it?
To limit the risk of falling out when one returns to gravity, we must rebuild the blood volume that we lost at the start of the mission. Because in space, the human body needs less blood fluid to live normally. And if you don’t replenish that 10-20% of blood capacity in the body by drinking extremely salty water, one in two people would fall apart when standing up on landing. So we drink the equivalent of a liter and a half of hyper salted water in the hour before the start of the school year. But the preparation is above all psychological. Read the procedures, stay focused, even if the bulk of the assignment has been done. You have to stay focused until the last moment because the slightest mistake can be fatal.
Can this expectation have an impact on the mind?
No, it’s the opposite. The wait will allow astronauts to go through a phase of relaxation by being regularly informed of what is happening. They are not going to go from a rather intense mode of preparing their luggage in quotes, to the installation phase in their capsule. It is rather a phase where we relax and it allows to really switch the mind from the “work in orbit” phase to the “re-entry into the atmosphere” phase. It is also necessary to prepare checklists, that is to say a list of what must not be forgotten, both with regard to the mission, certain samples of physics experiments, materials, etc. and then your favorite little objects to which you are entitled. We cannot bring as much on the way back as we were able to bring on the outward journey. For example, Jean-Loup Chrétien had brought an electronic organ to the Mir station, but he could not bring it back. It’s the same for Thomas. He can bring small personal items in his pockets or in small bags, but it is very limited.