Yes, this is my last blog post on Earth (at least for awhile) but hopefully, shortly after we arrive on the Space Station, I can start posting again. Here I sit in my quarantine room a day before launch. The last week was spent conducting review classes, going over our procedures, checking out our spacecraft systems and provisions and participating in prelaunch traditions.
One of the traditions we participated in was the planting of our trees. Every cosmonaut or astronaut who has launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome since Yuri Gagarin, has planted a tree with his or her name on it in the grove not far from the quarantine facility. Yuri’s is pretty big now (It’s exactly 50 years old).
The buzz around the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight is really starting to pick up. Many dignitaries are starting to arrive and we have been conducting a lot of media interviews concerning the historical significance of this anniversary.
For me, it is an incredibly significant milestone in the history of humanity. On that April 12th in 1961, humanity made a giant leap in our evolution as a species. We instantly became a species that was no longer confined to the boundaries of our Earth. On that day, we were no longer a single planet species. My fellow bloggernaut, Don Pettit likes to say, “If the Dinosaurs had a space program, they’d be still around.” I agree that our US and international space programs are crucial to our future.
As I said in my last post, another really important aspect of what we are celebrating in recognizing this anniversary is the international cooperation that was born out of the space program. There is no doubt in my mind that the world is a safer and more peaceful place today than it would be otherwise if we had not taken that first step into space. Even at the height of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. still somehow found a way to cooperate during the Apollo-Soyuz program, which accomplished the first docking of US and Russian spacecraft.
One of the pre-launch traditions that Alexander Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and I were not able to take part in as the prime crew was the rollout of our rocket and spacecraft. Today, in the early morning hours, a train carrying our rocket left the huge hanger of the vehicle assembly building and made the short journey to the launch pad.
With all our guests and our backup crew in attendance the rocket was erected to the vertical launch position onto the same launch pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from 50 years ago.
Having watched this before when I was a backup for Scott Kelly’s mission, I can say it is quite a sight to see the clash between the old and the new. Against the backdrop of grazing camels, it was a beautiful sight to see this train carrying one of only a couple of vehicles that is capable of carrying humans beyond our atmosphere. The swiftness that the rocket is readied for launch is truly amazing. Over the course of what seems like less than an hour the rocket goes from riding on the back of a train to standing tall on the launch pad.
After rollout, we were very fortunate to be able to spend a little time with our family members and other guests who were able to make it to Baikonur for launch. I am very grateful to those people were able to make it, and to those who tried but unfortunately were not able to attend. We really had a wonderful day with each crew-member's guests. It was a very special experience watching everyone get to know each other as we all shared this unique experience.
Later today we will go before the State Commission and each of us will have the opportunity to say a few words. Following the meeting with the State Commission we will have a press conference from behind the glass separating us from the media before we watch the traditional prelaunch movie “Белое Cолнце Пустыни” (White Sun of the Desert). I’m not sure exactly when this tradition started, but every crew for probably at least the last 15 years has watched this film before launch. I think this is one of those traditions that nobody really knows why we do it.
After the movie the crew heads to bed for the last time on Earth for the next 5 1//2 months. After 2 ½ years of training I think each of us is ready to get to work and to do our best to accomplish our mission objectives.
As I have said on this blog before, one of my personal mission objectives is to use the unique perspective of living and working in space to inspire people to make the world a better place. I really think if everyone could see what we see from space, we would have a lot fewer problems and everyone would be more inclined to help each other. Since we all can’t have this experience, I will do my best to share it with all I can, as best I can.
The highlights for tomorrow will be signing the doors of our quarantine rooms, receiving a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest, boarding buses for the 20 minute ride through the desert to the launch facility, changing into our spacesuits, then reporting to the State Commission before re-boarding the bus for the 5 minute ride to the launch pad. After arriving at the launch pad, we will pause for a brief photo oppurtunity at the base of the rocket before we climb in and strap ourselves in for the ride. Then the candle will be lit at 6:18pm (Eastern) and our journey will begin!
I’m going to sign off now for the last time on this planet. Over the next 5 ½ months I will do my best to bring everyone along with us on this mission; not as spectators but as participants and fellow crewmembers. When our new Fragile Oasis site is up and running, I encourage everyone to join and become crewmembers. Please help us to spread the word about Fragile Oasis. Let’s try and get as many people as possible to share in the experience.
In the words of Yuri Gagarin as he left the launch pad on that historic day, Поехали “WE'RE OFF!”