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Crew Safety, Vehicle Safety, Mission Success

And just like that ISS Increment 58, and my stint as the ADCO Increment Lead, is in the rear view mirror.

I have had a couple weeks to decompress and get back to "normal" work, whatever that means - a week of technical meetings with my Russian colleagues, a few days of cleaning up Flight Rules and giving checkouts, then a seven night stretch of working overnight in Mission Control doing the real work of flying the International Space Station.

So, how do I feel, now, post-increment?

Lots of things actually - relieved, fired up, nostalgic. I'm a mixed bag of "thank goodness I have time to work out again" and "oh my gosh I want to fix all the things, right now!"

But, during the course of 85 days as Increment Lead I couldn't help but grow as a person, an engineer, and a space enthusiast! 

And to put a perfectly nerdy ribbon on this whole experience I want to share with you a tiny moment that occurred on my last full day of Expedition 58. As it turns out, the last day of my duties as increment lead was also the "100 day" mark for the two of the crewmembers (they launched a couple weeks before I took over). In true NASA tradition we hold a party at a local pub, with cake, and dollar sangrias if you're a lady ;-) Everyone trickles in - NASA people, friends and family, orders their drinks and heads to the private upstairs room with purpose. NASA has outfitted this particular establishment with all the tools necessary for a video conference with the crew onboard ISS - TV, squawk box, etc. If you dine there any other day you may hardly notice the nondescript TV and equipment over in the corner.

As we all mingled together and reminisced about the ups and downs of an eventful increment the Ku-band satellite pass started and a program window popped up with the crew! They were more relaxed and personable than most of the other public affairs appearances - it was fun to see them during their "time off", outside of the hustle and bustle of a busy crew work day. Our Increment Flight Director shared some thoughtful words and the crew chimed in with their own celebratory 100 day message. Then, in a floating, joyful ceremony they slapped "100 day" patches on each other's shoulders and showed off a special version they had made for their Russian colleague - he was celebrating 630+ days in space!

After all of this fanfare we were able to say some personal words to the crew via an iphone (I don't know why, but getting a call from space on an iphone just blows my mind). I nervously got in the back of the line - trying to shake off what I'm sure were just perceived stares. "ADCOs don't generally interact with the crew much, what could she possibly have to say to them?"

Anne, David, and Oleg in the Russian Segment. Photo credit: NASA
I sort of rolled the words around in my head as the line moved up.

"Hi Anne and David! Congratulations on 100 days in space!" (I tried to muster up the confidence to sound like a seasoned astronaut-caller). "Anne, a few years ago I found myself at Naval Test Pilot School for an engineering short course and unbeknownst to me - you were also there, finishing up earning your test pilot wings. As I understand, your next assignment was supposed to be at the Army Aviation Flight Test Directorate - where I worked at the time. I would have been thrilled to work under your leadership there, but I am so thankful that we had the opportunity to do this mission together! Good luck on the rest of your mission!"

I glanced up at the video and saw a smile on Anne's face - I think she was feeling just as lucky as I was.

I quickly handed the phone off and walked out to my car. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't emotional. I got to my car and just sat for a second, reveling in this "meant-to-be-here" moment. My heart was bursting with all the feels.

Usually the job of increment lead of the motion control system is to make sure the crew never has to actually deal with it (we try to command as much as possible from the ground) - and, as such, this position can feel a bit isolated, disconnected from the precious cargo within ISS. But ultimately, every plan we make and procedure we verify and operation we fly is in pursuit of human safety. And whether we talk to the crew every day or not our goal is the same as every other console, in order, (1) crew safety (2) vehicle safety (3) mission success.

This is Nerdy April, signing off of Increment Lead duties!


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