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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.
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.
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 http://twitter.com/Astro_Ron ) and that before I launch we will introduce an exciting new Fragile Oasis website. Stay tuned!