The Liberty Gazette
August 26, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: It’s a surreal feeling, floating in space around the International Space Station. There is no air and there are no contaminants so everything seems stark, sharp to my eyes. Up here white is incredibly white and black is blacker than anything we’ve seen on earth. One side of my body faces the sun and bakes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. On my other side, pointed away from the sun, the temperature drops to negative 400. I raise my hands and look at my white gloves and rotate them about as if I’ve never seen them before. I turn my body to the left and looking through the visor in my helmet I see Linda in her spacesuit floating next to me.
We drift and move around the Space Station; sometimes we tilt in a different direction to look at something because it’s hard to move about with so much bulkiness covering our bodies.
There really is no up or down in Space but when I tried to look down at my feet and wiggle my toes I could not see past my chest pack which contains my environmental regulating equipment and oxygen. Protruding from my chest pack is a "T" shaped thing that looks sort of like a handlebar with loops for gripping at the T-ends. Onto these loops we can hook our tools as we carry them out to work on the station.
Past the long solar panel arrays, wing-like structures extend from the station to catch sunlight and provide power. I watch the earth and the clouds slide by faster than I would see even in a fast jet. The Space Station and us along with it are traveling at over 17,000 miles an hour. It takes us little more than an hour and a half to make a full track around the world which means we get to see about 15 and a half brilliant sunrises a day. Our temporary home is suspended in a low orbit, somewhere between 205 and 270 miles above the earth. Gravity still has a pull that far away, and as the station orbits it gradually descends, its orbit decaying. We rely on the Russian Zvezda rocket engine to push the ISS back out to the higher orbital altitude.
When the sun goes below the horizon, the brilliant solar panels become dim. In order to see we use powerful headlights attached our helmets which illuminate the areas on which we came out to work.
We drift down to the lower side of the station and peer into one of the cupola’s seven perfect distortion-free windows. From inside it is like a miniature Omnimax theater view of the earth, but for now we are outside. We move over to the airlock, our Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) is almost finished. I look over at Linda again and wave. She waves back. Funny, she only has partial arms. Only her gloves are waving about.
Linda: No, it wasn’t a dream. It was reality - the Virtual Reality Lab at NASA, that is. In a small room in one of the more obscure buildings at Johnson Space Center is the lab that has been training astronauts and movie makers for 15 years. Everything about the Space Station and space walking is recreated in the greatest detail by the most highly skilled engineers. The only thing that seems to be missing is elbows.