At 2 p.m. this Wednesday, Thomas Pesquet will see the Earth 400 km below his feet.
Because encased in his spacesuit, the French astronaut, current tenant of the International Space Station (ISS), will not be able to see his feet, and he will hardly have time to admire the blue planet behind his visor.
As soon as he passes the Quest module airlock with his American colleague Shane Kimbrough, they will have about 6 hours and 30 minutes left to carry out their mission for the day: install a new solar panel at the end of the end of the station.
An operation that they will have to repeat on Sunday.
“It took over a year to prepare for the two spacewalks,” Thomas Pesquet tweeted last week.
“These kinds of non-standard operations involve very different areas and a lot of coordination.
Thank you to those who make our outings possible!
Ten pool sessions in Houston
Among the guardian angels of the French, there is Hervé Stevenin. Responsible for the spacewalks training unit at the European Space Agency (ESA), he trained Thomas Pesquet in 2007. When he had just joined his promotion, the astronaut literally threw himself into the air. water at the European Astronaut Center. Located in Cologne, Germany, it houses an immersion basin measuring 17 by 22 m, with a depth of 10 m. “In free flotation, we immerse life-size models of the station. The conditions are close to weightlessness outdoors, ”explains Hervé Stevenin.
Unlike NASA, ESA does not have a spacesuit.
Instead, future station passengers put on gloves and underlays, which make them lose dexterity, as well as masks that take up the entire face, so that their instructors can interact with them, as during a real exit.
To read also Thomas Pesquet on his way to the ISS again: "Life is simpler in space"
During this initial training, Thomas Pesquet had to assimilate rules aimed at avoiding a difficulty: to be very effective despite the discomfort of a combination.
“Connecting a hook to a lanyard with a carabiner is an operation that should take a few seconds, not a minute.
You can't spend your time untangling your straps, ”continues Hervé Stévenin.
Another imperative is to ensure your own safety and that of your partner, in the event of a micrometeorite impact causing an oxygen leak in the suit, for example.
In this case, we must stop the operation and reenter the airlock within 30 minutes.
In the eye of Thomas Pesquet: his ten most beautiful photos of the Earth ... from space
For the newly selected astronauts, this first training bridges the experience acquired by some as divers and the requirement of spacewalks.
“Even if you are a very good diver, there is a huge gap between what you have acquired as a diver and what you ask for
Once assigned to the current mission, Thomas Pesquet spent a year in a specific training program in Houston, Texas.
Ten sessions during which he rehearsed, always in a swimming pool, but in a diving suit and with solar panels, each of the gestures he will have to perform this Wednesday.
"They are going to be well exhausted"
In recent days, Thomas Pesquet has spent several hours assembling the parts of his equipment, which arrived in spare parts, and testing its correct functioning. A suit made in the United States, made to measure. “It is made up of several elements, the torso, the arm, the forearm, the gloves… dimensioned, adapted to the morphology of the astronaut, according to a hundred measurement points, up to the phalanges. Thomas' spacesuit, Shane cannot use it, ”specifies Hervé Stevenin. In the space of a week, you will have to put on this suit and take it off twice.
Fitting and checking of diving suits (size, tightness, communication system, etc.), helped by Mark.
The activity took us almost 4 hours to make sure our portable spaceship will be armor-sized against the vacuum of space, on our outing with Shane on Wednesday pic.twitter.com/8BWl4Sdbge
- Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) June 13, 2021
“The two outings could have been further apart, but the tasks are identical,” observes Hervé Stevenin.
It wouldn't have made sense to wait several months.
If they have any time left on Wednesday, they can move the work forward to prepare for Sunday's outing.
They are veteran astronauts who have already done trips and know how to work together.
They wouldn't have gone out twice in a row with someone it would've been the first time for.
But the instructor concedes that an outing is "relatively tiring": "They will be very exhausted. They will have to be able to recover before Sunday. They will rest as one recovers after a sporting effort. We're not going to give them exhausting chores in the meantime. "