“I’m Telling You, It Doesn’t Fit”

Loading an overstuffed Soyuz capsule would try anyone’s patience.

“What’s that smell?” Padalka safely on the ground after his last Soyuz landing in 2012.

Everybody who’s ever packed a car for a family vacation knows the drill. You’ve gotten the sand chairs and the suitcases squeezed into place, with barely enough room to close the trunk, when someone comes running up—inevitably with a big, bulky object that has to go—and you end up taking it all out and starting over.

It’s the same in space. Today three of the nine astronauts onboard the International Space Station are packing up their Soyuz capsule to return to Earth (undocking is scheduled for 5:29 pm U.S. Eastern time, with a landing in Kazakhstan three hours later). In command is Gennady Padalka, who on this, his fourth trip to the station, became the all-time record holder for most time spent in space (879 days in orbit). Sitting next to him in the cramped ship will be Danish astronaut Andy Mogenson and Aidyn Aimbetov of Kazakhstan, two first-time space travelers who just spent a busy week on the station.

This morning, as Padalka was following instructions from the ground on what to pack in the Soyuz and where, he got into a testy exchange with “Vladimir,” one of the ground controllers in Moscow. You can hear it below, as translated from Russian by a woman who does a remarkable job of conveying not just the words, but the irritation behind them. It’s not uncommon for frustration to creep into discussions between astronauts in orbit and their colleagues on the ground. And you totally get why Padalka, who’s standing there (sorry, floating there) holding a case of disks that won’t fit in the assigned spot, finally says in exasperation,  “Can you not hear what I’m saying?” The recording starts in mid-discussion, with Padalka talking first (through the translator) and the ground controller answering “It should fit.”

No big deal, though. Eventually the ground agreed with the cosmonaut, and told him to take the disks out of the offending plastic case and leave the case behind. Problem solved.

Yesterday, Moscow advised Padalka to be aware that the grass at the Kazakhstan landing site is pretty dry, so may burn a little (it’s happened before) when the Soyuz retro-rockets fire just before touchdown. The world’s most experienced space traveler showed no concern at the news, but simply said, “When you come back from a spaceflight, your smell improves greatly [because fluids no longer shift to the head and cause a stuffy nose]. So I will definitely be able to tell if it’s burning or not.”

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