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Lara's log

Lara Keytel - February 16, 2002: Russian Valentine - TGIF, or in this case Saturday, the week has flown and KASA (Karen’s space agency) has been hard at work, finalising flight schedules, preparing data sheets, collecting samples, evading Russian jails, just your average week working for the Chief and staff.

Since I last had the opportunity to prepare the log, I have collected more of Mark’s sputum; I think this cosmonaut’s getting the idea, and definitely not holding back anymore. I am delighted to say the very least!

Wednesday night we finally found the way to Mark’s heart. I was worried about him recording his own food and fluid intake. It’s imperative for the Doubly Labelled Water Study that we keep accurate records of both food and fluid, as well as his physical activities. Well, I should not have worried. I explained the necessity of keeping an accurate record using the analogy of the difference in the quality of the study being published in “Nature” or in “You”. That really hit home: “space tourist” or “space scientist”.

So I felt confident about leaving Mark for a day – something Karen and I had to do because we could no longer run from the Russian militia. You see, unknown to us, we should have registered within in three days of arriving in Moscow. Oops! We had been here for more than a week. Let’s just say it’s not “policy” to live on one of the most secure military bases in Moscow illegally. So it was off to Moscow for the evening, where we would get registered on spending one night in a hotel.

’It’s enough to kill even my appetite’

Before leaving for Moscow, though, I managed to complete Mark’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) test. During this test, Mark remained semi-comatose in bed as I crept into his room at some unspeakable hour (in Mark’s vocabulary) and placed a mask, connected to a portable analyser, on his face.

I then left and waited next door, in the kitchen, as I watched the test results appear on my laptop using some dinky little software and hardware, connected via telemetry (similar to radio waves) from the analyser to my laptop. I LOVE TECHNOLOGY. Mark continued to slumber in his semi-comatose state for exactly 30 minutes, after which I rudely interrupted any sweet dreams he was having and demanded my sputum sample. I think he is beginning to understand why he went into computers as opposed to biology.

Nonetheless I forged on, and after the sample we sat down to breakfast. I’ve noted that Mark’s food has become remarkably simple, and can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s because of my sitting and staring at him while he eats. Or maybe it’s the fact that every morsel of food that enters his mouth has been classified according to a teaspoon, tablespoon, matchbox, cup, bowl or plate size. I won’t even begin to bore you with the details of how I note food preparation. Hell, it’s enough to kill even my appetite.

With that, Karen and I were on our way to Moscow to meet with the folks at IBMP, or the Institute for Biomedical Problems. I still can’t fathom why it’s named “problems”, not “solutions”; must be some quirky Russian sense of humour. We were dreading our meeting, as previous meetings with the Institute seemed to go on, and on, and on. We seemed to go around in ever-diminishing circles, and as a result were not as psyched as should have been. Partly because our meeting was for after lunch, and we had visions of spending the night there, and partly because Karen was to meet with the “Grandfather of zero-gravity muscle research” and these meetings have been known to accomplish little in lots of time.

Hunting ground of the mob

Well, were we wrong. Talk about foot-in-mouth scenario. Karen and I split up. I met a doctor named Irina who handled all the sample collections onboard the ISS to discuss the Doubly Labelled Water swab collection and my revised protocol. Karen met the Grandfather.

All I can say is we probably accomplished more in that hour that I had accomplished over the past week. These people were amazing. They were short and to the point, and they really knew their stuff. There was no beating around any bushes, and I saw Karen grinning from ear to ear after her meeting with the Grandfather. As we left IMBP on Thursday, I think for the first time we were beginning to feel like we were really winning. In fact, these Russian scientist were really starting to go out of their way. Irina had even offered some of her precious weekend to come through to Star City to train Mark in the equipment he was to use on the ISS.

With that, we were on our way to Hotel Russia, our chosen hotel to get legally registered in Moscow. What we didn’t know – and somehow Mark neglected to mention - was that Hotel Russia was notorious in Moscow. Not only was it one of its largest hotels – we’re talking seriously B.I.G. here - but apparently up until a few years ago, it was run by the Russian mob and was famous for the hits that used to take place on a weekly basis.

Karen and I were just so impressed that there was a police unit in the lobby, complete with holding cells. Talk about naiveté! Apparently, people would check in and just never check out. Ugh. Gives me shivers up my spine …thanks Mark.

Well, we did survive, and I even managed to get in some sightseeing. The hotel is situated next to the Kremlin, St Basil’s and Red Square. I took in the sights and lover’s walking on Red Square, as St Valentines Day evening was in full swing. Man, these Russians love Valentine’s Day. There were balloons and roses and sweets and present-giving all over the place.

Velcro bonanza!

Friday morning and back to Star City, stamp in passport, no longer illegal. Friday was a bit of an admin day, although it ended up in the notorious Nasa hangout, Shep’s bar, listening to stories from one of the Nasa guys who had spent some time in Los Alamos, the weapons facility out in New Mexico that was recently in the press for leaked documents to the East.

Saturday, and an early start for Mark. Irina, from IMBP, arrived promptly at 9:30am. It was such a pity that Mark only got there at 9:45am. Luckily, he charmed the pants off her with his Russian vocabulary. Not bad for a chap still half asleep.

She was brilliant as she demonstrated exactly how Mark was to collect the saliva sample on the ISS. The saliva kits have Velcro everywhere, and I mean everywhere. What we tend to forget here on Earth is that up there, everything floats, and you have to secure everything all the time. You can imagine how annoying it would be to take the cap off the saliva-swab kit and it floats away, then if you’re not quick the swab floats away, and so on.

Following Irina’s demonstration, it was time for me to document Mark’s breakfast and prepare him for the calibration test, which calibrates Mark’s energy expenditure compared to his heart rate and must be done two hours after eating. It’s really simple to execute. Basically, Mark completes a test of eight workloads wearing a heart-rate monitor and the portable gas analyser to measure his oxygen consumption, which I convert into energy expenditure. Each workload gets progressively more difficult so that his heart rate increases by about 10 beats per minute with each workloads.

Needless to say, it is a pretty laborious, uninteresting test that must be done. I was a little worried about Mark performing in the test, as he has in the past bemoaned the fact that he detests running, and he had to perform at least two running workloads. I need not have worried: the man went psycho on me, turning into a running demon before my very eyes. Not only did he complete the two running workloads, but he did another four more, all the while connected to the portable analyser, which I connected up to the telemetry mode so that Karen could watch the test from the next room. Well done Chief Karen on some excellent training!

Landing Countdown to 05:51 05 May

Landing Complete!

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Mark Shuttleworth
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Lara Keytel
Danie Barry
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Lara Keytel
29/04/2002: Zero G’s and docking parties
27/04/2002: Experiments and experience
23/04/2002: The gathering of Mark
18/04/2002: Suitcases and Vodka
19/02/2002: Lucky stars
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