Skip to main content /SPACE /SPACE


Subscribe to one of our news e-mail lists.
Enter your address:

CNN Mobile

CNN Websites



CNN International



New space station chief settles in

New Alpha commander Frank Culbertson, left, with departing commander Yury Usachev during a news conference from the space station on Tuesday.
New Alpha commander Frank Culbertson, left, with departing commander Yury Usachev during a news conference from the space station on Tuesday.  

By Amanda Barnett

(CNN) -- All new employees need a few days to get familiar with their workplace. Even an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist with a world of experience and a stellar resume.

New space station commander Frank Culbertson, a veteran NASA astronaut who officially took the helm at 3:15 p.m. EDT on Monday, is learning to navigate his new home.

And while the space station may be the leading outpost for space exploration, Alpha has some quirks. Take phoning home, for instance.

Astronauts and cosmonauts have options for talking to the ground, including what NASA calls the Big Loop -- a channel that anyone on the planet can hear, including journalists.

Message Board: Space Exploration  

Mission Guide: STS-105  

Culbertson got a gentle reminder from Mission Control in Houston on Tuesday that it's easy to leave a switch in the wrong position allowing private conversations to go out over the Big Loop.

"Your private conference is bleeding over to air-to-ground. Please check the com (communications) configuration on the SM (service module) com panel," said Stephanie Wilson at Mission Control.

After getting no response from the station, Mission Control cut the connection from the ground and informed Culbertson later.

"Okay, I'll double check that," responded Culbertson.

Finding the bells and whistles

Culbertson, who has a degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, has logged over 6,000 hours flying time in 40 different types of aircraft.

He also is a veteran of two space flights with more than 344 hours in space before he was launched to Alpha on space shuttle Discovery on August 10. And he was responsible for a multi-national panel in charge of nine shuttle docking missions with the Russian space station Mir.

Prior to his current flight assignment, Culbertson spent a year as Deputy Program Manager for Operations of the International Space Station Program.

In other words, he's no slacker on the ground or in orbit.

Culbertson, center, flanked by his Russian crewmates: Vladimir Dezhurov, left, and Mikhail Tyruin.
Culbertson, center, flanked by his Russian crewmates: Vladimir Dezhurov, left, and Mikhail Tyruin.  

But like any employee taking on a new assignment, a big part of the job is just learning where stuff is stowed.

"We're finding all the switches and where everything is hidden and probably in a few days we'll actually know where to find things," he said Tuesday.

To help Culbertson and his two Russian crewmates, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, get familiar with their new job site, NASA has scheduled handover time. Basically they get time to talk to the departing crew, Russian commander Yury Usachev, and U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss.

"They're incredibly organized and it's going to be a lot easier for us than it might have been if they had not taken the time that they have and spent the time showing us things," Culbertson said.

Sticky printer

Space station Alpha
Space station Alpha  

Culbertson isn't the only one aboard the orbiting complex dealing with technical problems.

Space shuttle mission specialist Daniel Barry battled an issue common for many Earth-bound office workers: printer problems.

"I had a job printing last night and I wanted to cancel it," Barry told Mission Control. "When I tried to cancel the print job by bringing up the printer icon it said 'you do not have permission to cancel printing.'"

NASA said it would get computer experts on the ground to look into the problem.

The two space station crews, along with the four Discovery astronauts, continued unloading supplies from the Italian-built Leonardo cargo module, a shiny giant cylinder that the shuttle crew attached to the space station on Monday.

Among the items unloaded on Tuesday, a new bed for Alpha. Prior to this shuttle delivery flight, there were sleeping quarters for only two Alpha residents. The third had to sleep on a makeshift bunk in the Destiny science lab.

Once it's unloaded, the reusable container will be filled with trash and other items that are to be sent back to Earth.

The returning Alpha crewmembers, meanwhile, are doubling up on exercise sessions to prepare for their return to Earth's gravity. By the time Discovery lands on August 22, the three will have been in space more than 167 days.

• NASA Human Spaceflight
• The Space Shuttle Clickable Map
• Oceanography from the Space Shuttle
• NASA Space Shuttle Virtual Tour
• Boeing: Space Shuttle Homepage
• Earth from Space

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top