At the historic museum near the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 31/32 Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA adds his name to the “Wall of Signatures.” Photo credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov
The initial goal of approximately 2.5 years of training is finally coming to fruition. I am currently in Baikonur, Kazakhstan performing final preparations for my May 15 Soyuz launch to the International Space Station (ISS) where I will be spending 4 months living and working in space. My crew mates are cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, a veteran space flyer dating back to the Mir Space Station and Sergey Revin, a rookie. I am lucky to serve with these gentlemen, not only as colleagues but as friends. When we arrive, we will be greeted by American Astronaut Don Pettit, Dutch Astronaut Andre Kuipers and Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko (ISS Expedition 31). Once they depart in early July, we will be joined by Astronaut Suni Williams, Japanese Astronaut Aki Hoshide and Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (ISS Expedition 32).
Due to the facts that I will be launching on a Russian vehicle and the true international nature of the Space Station, my training has taken me to Russia, Canada, Japan and Germany. All of my US, Canada, Japan and Germany training was completed by the first week of April. On April 8, I arrived in Star City, Russia to complete the final training and examinations on the Russian segments of the ISS and the Soyuz spacecraft. These extensive exams took place over a 2-day period and are an important milestone on our path to launch. We worked well as a crew, passed our exams and showed that we are ready to embark on this journey. After final exams, we were given a few days of crew rest. This is a critical time to not only rest the body, but to get things in order before you leave the planet in order to put your mind at rest. On May 2, we had the traditional farewell breakfast in Star City before we boarded our plane to Baikonur.
Why do we arrive in Baikonur 2 weeks before launch? There are many final preparations that need to be done and you want to do them at a pace where the crew can be assured to launch well rested.
Our second day in Baikonur was very important and one of my favorites, of course not including launch day. This was our first opportunity to get in our actual vehicle, both in regular flight suits and our Sokol space suits. Just as I experienced with my shuttle flight in 2009, no matter how good a training model is, there is no substitute for being in the real deal. It was also an opportunity to “leak test” our space suits one more time before the day of launch, in which we will do our final leak check. If any off nominal event was to occur, these suits are our first line of defense. In a few days, we will do our final visit to the vehicle once it is fully packed. In the meantime, we have various classes and briefings, we review flight procedures and remain in a quarantine status. Family and friends that are coming out for launch will arrive in a few days. Even though it will be in a very controlled environment, it will be great to see them. From my family, it will be my mom, dad and sister.
I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to contribute to our collective exploration of space. While the astronauts and cosmonauts are the most visible members, we are the smallest of a truly monumental team that consists of trainers, flight control teams, engineers, technicians, scientists and doctors, to name a few. The science being conducted aboard the ISS could not be done without the efforts of each person involved. I thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to an international space program. I would also like to thank everyone reading this for your support. I truly believe the work we are doing does and will continue to have concrete benefits.