The crew will also be in trouble if they don’t keep up their daily exercise regime. Otherwise muscles waste away and they will be in no fit state to return to Earth. “This is the machine that saves their muscles,” says Bolt as she shows me a fearsome looking contraption: the Exercise Resistive Device. “The crew loves it, they can work out their legs, arms; they can do everything with this machine.”
This arrangement of weights and pulleys is positioned above the cupola, the station’s observation dome, making it the best view of any gym in the world: the view above the world. “They can open the shutters,” says Bolt, “and as they’re exercising they can look out of the windows to the Earth below.”
But moving a mass around in microgravity can bring problems – even causing the entire ISS to move. “We’ve had a few astronauts getting too much of a rhythm on their weights and suddenly there’s a vibration across the whole station,” says Bolt, who also works in mission control. “There’re sensors everywhere and we monitor that on the ground and we’re like ‘what’s going on!’ That’s something we have to watch for.”
The sensors are there to spot any threats or potential problems with the station. After all, if there is a problem, the crew is on its own to cope with it. As a result, a large part of Bolt’s job is to simulate emergencies in the training facility – including dealing with fire or collision with space debris. From a console outside, Bolt can activate alarms, turn off the lights or even fill the modules with smoke. “Every emergency training response has the crew come to the Russian segment first, this is the gathering point” she explains. “This is where they have communications, they have computers and they have the Soyuz spacecraft.”
These spacecraft are the one item that will always be shared, no matter what. The two Soyuz spacecraft are the station’s lifeboats and the way home if something goes catastrophically wrong.
The obvious problem with this arrangement is if there’s a fire or leak in the Russian section. “Everything is here to get them home so they are trained to fight the fire first,” says Bolt. “They have to grab the Russian fire extinguishers and put the fire out.”
If they don’t, there’s no way back.