Pre-Flight Traditions

Expedition 27/28 Crew in Red Square (Photo: NASA)

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The two-and-a-half years of training for the Expedition 27/28 missions culminated last week with our participation in pre-launch traditions. Last Friday, we went before the State Commission. The State Commission was headed by Sergey Krikalev. Besides being the Chief of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Sergey has spent more time in space than anyone in history (803 days 9 hours and 39 minutes). At the Commission, all our training for the mission was reviewed, each of us said a few words, and then we were certified “Ready for Flight.” Following the State Commission, we conducted a press conference with Russian and European media that was also covered by NASA TV.

On Friday, after the press conference, we visited the Cosmonaut Museum here in Star City. Before touring through the great historical displays, each crew sat at Yuri Gagarin’sdesk and signed the Cosmonaut Book. It was fun looking through the book and seeing the names and well wishes of the crews that went before us. From Star City we headed down to Red Square where we each took turns laying flowers at the tombs of Yuri

Expedition 27/28 Crew after the Russian Space Agency press conference (Photo:

Gagarin and Sergey Korolev. What a great honor to be able to show our respect to the first human in space, and to the father of the Russian space program.  We also placed flowers on the tomb of Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov who was the first person to fly in space twice, and also was unfortunately the first person to die during a space mission when he perished on Soyuz 1. In addition to paying respect to those great champions of human spaceflight that have gone before us, we also had some time for “photo-ops” in front of the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon inside the Kremlin. and of course in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Signing the Cosmonaut Book at Yuri Gagarin’s desk (photo:

After our visit to Red Square we all headed to the headquarters of the Russian Space Agency to meet with the Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency,  Anatoly Perminov .  Mr. Perminov congratulated us on the completion of our Star City based training and talked about the challenges we would face on our mission. He also talked about the desire of the international community to explore beyond low-Earth orbit including the Moon and Mars.

Expedition 27/28 prime and backup crews in front of theTsar Bell inside the Kremlin (Photo: NASA)

We were scheduled to depart Star City for Baikonur this Thursday, but technical problems with our spacecraft have delayed our launch. We do not expect a very long delay and we except to find out the new launch date in a day or two. Whenever we end up arriving in Baikonur, I’m really looking forward to being in that place, so close to the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight, and where so much space history was made.

Final Flight Readiness Examinations

Expedition 27/28 Crew (from L-R) Ron Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Andrey Borisenko Photo Credit: RSA

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I would like to start this post out with an apology. It has been almost a month since I last updated everyone here on Fragile Oasis. I will try harder to keep everyone updated more frequently as our launch draws closer and even after we are on orbit. These past few weeks have been very busy and have marked the completion of our crew’s Soyuz and Space Station training. Our training ended with full day final exams in the Space Station and Soyuz simulators. On the first day of exams, Alexander Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko, and I reported to “The Commission” in front of a sea of media.

The Expedition 27/28 Crew speaks to reporters at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City Russia prior to the start of final qualification exams. Photo Credit:

After reporting to the commission, Andrey selected one envelope from a choice of five which contained the malfunctions we would experience during the simulation. Our 1st exam consisted of a “normal” day onboard the ISS with occasional malfunctions sprinkled in. After about 8 hours, the examination concluded with a simulated rapid depressurization inside our space station mockup. We systematical closed hatches in a pre-determined sequence to pinpoint the leaking compartment. After the examination was complete, we went before the “Commission” to receive our evaluation (in front of a packed room of people). All in all the simulation went very well and we were given good marks. While we were in the Space Station simulation our backup crew of Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Dan Burbank did a great job with their final exam in the Soyuz simulator.

The next day, the prime and back-up crews switched places. We started our all-day Soyuz exam by changing into our Sokol spacesuits and again reporting to the Commission. This time Soyuz Commander Alexander Samolkuaev picked the sealed envelope that contained the malfunctions we would face throughout the day. Of course we did not get to look inside the envelope. Inside the Soyuz sim we went through all the procedures for launch, rendezvous, docking with the ISS, and undocking. At the end of the day, just after we undocked, our capsule filled with smoke. We quickly accomplished the procedures for putting out the simulated fire which included venting all the air out of the capsule and then we began the procedures for our emergency descent back to Earth. As “luck” would have it, our computers failed and we went through all the procedures manually. We “survived” the simulation and the exam debrief and received great marks and congratulations from the Commission and from the many people in attendance.

The Expedition 27/28 Crew speaks to reporters at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City Russia prior to the start of final qualification exams. Photo Credit: Gene Dowell

After the exams were all over we had a wonderful party at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center with the crews,  cosmonauts, Russian Space Agency dignitaries, and our instructors. There was a great feeling of accomplishment. It was great to be able to share this celebration with those wonderful training professionals who make many sacrifices and work very hard to ensure that crews are ready for flight. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, the pride that people who work in the space program have in their chosen profession shines through in all that they do. It is really humbling to be a part of this special endeavor of humanity.

As I write this post the Space Shuttle Discovery has just touched down at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I was able to watch Discovery’s return to Earth on NASA TV from my cottage here in Star City. Discovery’s landing was a bitter-sweet moment. It was rewarding because my friends are onboard and the landing marked the safe and successful end to a challenging mission. The landing also marked the retirement of NASA’s most experienced Space Shuttle, a vehicle that has spent a full year in space, deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, flew two return-to-flight missions, and had a major role in the construction of the ISS. Personally, I was absolutely amazed with how well Discovery performed during the 14 days I spent onboard her during STS-124. God Speed Discovery.

Tomorrow is another big day. Our day will begin with the prime and backup crews reporting to the State Commission for formal certification of flight readiness, followed by a press conference, a visit to the Cosmonaut Museum. Our day will end after a trip to Red Square where we will lay flowers at the tombs of Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Korolev to honor the first human in space and the Father of the Russian Space Program. Our launch is scheduled for the 30th of March from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (29th of March in the US). I see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s 32 liquid kerosene rocket engines)! Please spread the word that I will be sending out updates as often as I can (both on this blog and at ) and that before I launch we will introduce an exciting new Fragile Oasis website. Stay tuned!

Expedition 27/28 Crew pose for photos with journalists (Photo: RSA)

IAH Gate E7: 1st Leg on the Journey to Space

My Last View of the US for the Next Eight Months

Well here I sit in the airport in Houston getting ready to start my journey to space.

First I will fly to Frankfurt for the rest of the week to finish my last training at the European Astronaut Center. I will have refresher training on the Columbus Laboratory, the Automated Transfer Vehicle and training on some of the European Space Agency experiments that we will conduct on board the ISS during our mission.

On Saturday, Dan Burbank and I will fly to Moscow to finish the last Soyuz and Russian Segment Space Station training in Star City. The Complex Examinations before the State Commission that we must pass before we head down to Kazakhstan for the final launch preparations will be the culmination of training in Star City.

Alexander Samokutyayev and Andrey Borisenko and I are presently scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft at 7:42pm CT on March 29th (00:42 GMT on March 30th, 4:42am Moscow time on March 30th, and 6:42am Baikonur time on March 30th which is 52 minutes before sunrise in Baikonur). This is less than 2 weeks prior to the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight.

We will launch from the same launch pad where Yuri Gagarin began his historic flight that marked the beginning of the space age. What a great honor that will be!

As I prepared to leave for final launch preparations, I experienced an interesting phenomena. Realizing that leaving Houston starts me on a journey that will take me off the planet for 6 months, I started to take note of things that I will not experience for half a year. Whether it’s a flock of birds against the sunset or early morning mist on the water of Clear Lake, or a million other things that define the beauty of life on our planet, I experienced a profound appreciation for the gift of the beauty of our world. I will miss a great many experiences that I normally take for granted, but I also look forward to the new experiences that define the beauty of life off the planet.

Please stay tuned as we improve and make it an even better tool for those of us living off the planet to share our experiences with those living on the planet.