Originally posted at fragileoasis.org
Here I sit inthe quarantine facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Wearrived on Monday the 21st of March after a wonderful send off in Star City,Russia.
CrewmatesRon Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Andrey Borisenko just before boarding theplane for a 3 and 1/2 hour flight from Star City to the Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan.
Our departureday started with a breakfast in our honor at the Gagarin Cosmonaut TrainingCenter where several dignitaries wished us well and then each of the crewmembers said a few words of thanks to everyone who prepared us for thisjourney. We then had a brief press conference near a memorial statue of YuriGagarin before boarding buses to the military airfield to start our 3 ½ hourflight to Baikonur. In the spirit of “You can’t put all your eggs in onebasket,” the prime crew flew on one aircraft and the backup crew on another.
After landing inKazakhstan, we were greeted by local and Russian Space Agency dignitariesbefore boarding the crew buses (the vehicles we will ride in to the launch pad)to the quarantine facility (the prime crew on one bus and the backup crew onanother). We had a police escort for the 15 minute ride through the city ofBaikonur to the quarantine facility.
Tuesday was theday for our first “Fit Check.” The day started with a 20 minute ride throughthe desert to the launch complex and Soyuz processing facility. After arrivingat the Soyuz processing facility, the prime and backup crews reported to theState Commission (on the other side of a large window) and then took turnsclimbing inside our spacecraft.
Walking into thelarge hanger that contains various huge pieces that will soon become one largerocket, the first thing I saw was our rocket fairing. The rocket fairing willencapsulate our spacecraft at launch until we get high enough in the atmospherewhere it can be jettisoned. On the fairing was a large painting of YuriGagarin, The word “GAGARIN” in large red letters going down the side, an emblemdesignating this as the 50th anniversary rocket, along with Russian andAmerican flags.
Words cannotdescribe what an honor it is to have our launch coincide with the 50thanniversary of humanity’s first step into the Cosmos. As I stood there andlooked at this incredible sight, it dawned on me that fifty years ago one nationlaunched one man into space and made that first step toward the humanexploration of space. Today, 50 years later, the three of us on our crewrepresent the many nations of the partnership that is the International SpaceStation. Everyone in the partnership does not always agree with each other, butthe strength of our partnership is that we are together, and we support eachother in good times and bad.
I remember afterthe Columbia tragedy all the partners stood with NASA and together wepersevered. Today we all stand with our Japanese colleagues as they overcomethe tragedy of the earthquake. We all have proven that by workingtogether we can accomplish amazing things including constructing in orbit themost complex structure ever built, the International Space Station. If we cando that in space, imagine what we can do working together to solve the challengesfacing our planet!
The Soyuzspacecraft is very cramped and every inch of available space is taken up byeither crew or cargo, but after spending so much time training inside the Soyuzsimulators it actually feels very comfortable.
The remaining 1½ weeks left before launch will consist of procedure reviews, refresherclasses, and participating in many more traditions that I hope to journalfurther in this blog.
The FragileOasis team is very close to going live with the new site which will include theFragile Oasis on-line community. I encourage everyone to join the community andbecome a Fragile Oasis Crewmember so that you can follow along with this andfuture missions not just as spectators but as participants.
April 4th 2011, the crew of Soyuz TMA-21 woke up at about 8:30am, we were able to spend an hour or so with our families, then we packed up our belongings, ate lunch and went back to bed.
We then started our “real” day at 7:00pm. After dinner, we met with some of the Russian Space Agency managers before we began the launch ceremonies. Starting with the traditional signing of the doors of our crew quarters rooms, we then received a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest and made our way to the buses that would take us to the launch facility. Many friends, family and co-workers lined the route to the buses and gave us a great send off!
It was a very quiet 20 minute ride through the pitch-black desert to the Baikonur Launch Facility. As we were waiting to change into our spacesuits at the launch facility, we watched a very nice send-off video with messages from the friends and family of each of us on the crew (I really appreciated that).
After changing into our Sokol spacesuits, we had a brief meeting with the State Commision. With friends, family, and visiting dignitaries in attendance, and with the State Commission on one side of a large glass window and the crew on the other, we had our last few words with the managers who represent the many people who worked to get everything ready for launch.
After the meeting with the State Commission and giving our final report we boarded buses for the launch pad. As the bus pulled away we were able to wave goodbye to those people in attendance that are special to us in our last face-to-face contact for the next 6-months.
Arriving at the launch pad we were greeted by a very memorable sight. The rocket was completely covered in a layer of white ice. We could hear the rocket venting and the sight of the white oygen vapor being bathed in the floodlights on the very early morning hours of April 5th was sight to be seen. The whole launch process was steeped in tradition – even the walk from the bus was symbolic.
As we walked to the foot of the launch pad, space program senior managers held us on both sides as we walked. This was very good because it’s hard to walk in those spacesuits! But, I also think they represented the many thousands of people who actually helped bring us to this launch. One of those in my case was Mike Suffredini, head of NASA’s International Space Station program.
In an interesting tradition I was not aware of, each of us received a kick in the butt from one of the senior Russian Space program managers as we stepped toward the ladder to the launch pad – as if to provide one last measure of encouragement to launch.
The three crewmembers and one technician rode the elevator through clouds of liquid oxygen to the top of the rocket. Each of us signed the entry hatch and climbed inside and took our respective places in the capsule.
During the hours of launch prep there were times when the crew really had nothing to do but wait. During those periods music was played over our headsets. One of the songs I really enjoyed listening to was “One” by U2.
Lying in our seats before launch was actually very peaceful. We periodically felt vibrations and valves opening and closing, and we heard fans and motors turning on and off, but through all that I felt a peaceful reassurance that everything was ready to go. The vehicle definitely felt alive and ready. Laying there strapped to the rocket I thought about all those people that are close to me that were watching there in Baikonur, on TV or online.
About 10 seconds before the planned liftoff we could hear and feel the engines start. When the clock hit zero, we could feel ourselves being propelled upward. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first human to space, Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev calmly said, “In the words of Yuri Gararin, Поехали.” (We’re off.). I, on the other hand, let loose with a spontaneous “Woo Hoo!”
The 1st stage of the launch had a lot less vibration than I remember from my Shuttle launch. The 2nd stage separation however was quite an event, which led to my second “Woo Hoo!”
After our rocket fairing bearing the name and likeness of Yuri Gagarin jettisoned, exposing the windows of our capsule, I watched my 1st of many orbital sunrises. The launch was actually significantly more fun than I had anticipated. After we got to space I felt like Fred Randal from the movie “Rocket Man.” I wanted to yell out, “Can we do that again” but restrained myself. After launch it was probably at least another 4 hours until I was out of my seat and out of my spacesuit.
After a few hours of procedures and maneuvers to put our spacecraft on the proper course to “catch up” with the ISS, Alexander and I, like bats, hung our sleeping bags from the top of the Soyuz habitation compartment with our heads down to the hatch to the descent module with Andrey building his nest in the descent module. I usually find it hard to sleep in space but after such a long and exciting day I dropped right off.
As I write this, it is the morning of our first full day in space. I’m finding this experience much different than my experience on the Space Shuttle. Not just because it’s a smaller vehicle, but mainly because we only have brief periods of time, every few hours, when we have contact with the ground.
Basically it’s just the three of us in our little spacecraft, Sasha, Andrey and I, separated from everyone else in the world.
It really is an interesting place to be. The spacecraft slowly rotates about all 3 axes as it orbits the Earth (pitch, yaw, and roll). Looking out the window I felt like I was riding on a slowly tumbling leaf being blown around the world. The Soyuz spacecraft is a great and reliable ship and although it is a very small vehicle, it is surprisingly comfortable to live in on orbit (assuming you like the people you’re with – which I do!)
Thinking back over the last 24 hours in space I need to stop for a moment and express how amazed and impressed I am with my crewmates. Although this was the first flight for both Alexander & Andrey, they both adapted to weightless immediately and acted like they were seasoned, veteran cosmonauts. I know of no way to predict how people will react after arriving space for the first time, so I felt very fortunate to be a part of such a capable crew.
Between now and joining up with the space station, we will continue to adapt to our new environment, get our spacecraft ready for the docking, and look at our beautiful Earth while thinking of all of those people we said goodbye to, and won’t see for the next six months.
I’ve also been thinking of all the people who helped to make this experience wonderful for me personally: the people who were able to make it to the launch, those that couldn’t but supported us from home, and all the people who supported us in Baikonur. I am filled with gratitude to our family escorts, flight docs and managers, our instructors and Baikonur support staff.
I’m going to close for now. In my next post I hope to describe our first experiences after arriving on the International Space Station.
All the best from Earth orbit,
Originally posted on fragileoasis.org
On the day of our rendezvous with the Space Station, Alexander (Sasha), Andrey and I changed back into our spacesuits, took our respective places in our Soyuz Descent Module and closed the hatch to the Habitation compartment.
The entire space station was pitched up 90 degrees and rotated 180 degrees so that the top of the space station was facing forward in relation to its path around the Earth.
We started out in front of the space station and slowly allowed the distance to close. As we closed inside of about 50 meters I could see the periphery of the Space Station out the side windows of our Soyuz capsule. As we got very close, the large radiators of the space station were passing very close to my window. I found myself wondering just how much clearance there was between the radiators and our Soyuz solar arrays.
In a scene that reminded me of pulling a car into a tight parking spot, we gently touched the docking port on the top of the space station as we watched the “Capture” light illuminate, signaling our arrival at our new home.
After a few hours of checks and procedures, we were ready to equalize the pressure between the two vehicles, open the hatches, and go aboard. It was great to see the smiling faces of our waiting crewmates on the other side of the hatch!
After a brief hello, we all floated down to the Japanese module where a live video feed was set up between Mission Control in Moscow and us. It was wonderful to hear the voices of family and friends who were gathered there.
My first impression of the station was, “Wow, it seems much bigger than the last time I was here.” This is because several modules have been added since my Space Shuttle flight in 2008. It is so big you could literally get lost.
The highlight of my orientation to the ISS was definitely my first exposure to the Cupola. Cady Coleman showed me how to open the window shutters that protect the seven panel windows that make up the cupola.
An extraordinary site greeted me as I opened the first shutter. We were on the dark side of the orbit, but off in the distance on the horizon was the blue band of orbital sunrise. In the middle of the blue band was a very bright crescent moon. It was breathtaking to see the curved blue band with a beautiful crescent moon in the middle of it — with nothing but pitch-black darkness on either side. What a welcome to the incredible part of the space station known as the cupola.
Since arriving, things have been very busy. I have been getting the “fire hose treatment.” It will be awhile before I learn everything that I need to know to operate here efficiently.
The International Space Station is the most amazing place I have ever been. Besides being enormous, it is a world class, fully functioning series of laboratories for conducting research about how humans can further explore our solar system, with direct application to improving life on Earth.
It is a really interesting place to live. Last night after dinner, Sasha and I took turns playing the guitar (I was confined to the five chords I know), while Cady played the flute.
Music is a really good way to maintain a connection to our life on Earth. I’ll close here for now as we start of our first full week of work on board the ISS.
Originally posted at fragileoasis.org
- Improved silicon chip manufacturing which can lead to faster, more powerful and smaller computers
- Improved capability to handle small volumes of liquids which can lead to advancements in new drugs, DNA examinations and analytical chemistry
- Improved methods of removing heat from electronic devises
- Higher quality materials
- More effective welding techniques which provide stronger welds using less material
- Advancements in micro and nano-technology
For more information, please visit http://www.FragileOasis.org.
I am writing this very early Easter morning. I took pictures of the Holy Land and other areas in the region yesterday, April 23rd, and thought it appropriate to share with everyone.
It’s interesting that I’ve spent one Easter (2006) living on the bottom of the ocean during the NEEMO-9 mission and now I’m spending one in space.
I understand how blessed I am to have the opportunity to celebrate Easter while marveling at God’s creation that we call home.
It really is true that the Earth looks very peaceful from space. It was surreal to be directly over Libya with a beautiful view to the east of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
My Easter prayer is that all the inhabitants of our Fragile Oasis come to the realization that we are in this together; that we are all riding together through the universe on this spaceship we call Earth; that love and understanding can conquer all, and that nothing is impossible if we overcome our differences, and then work together to solve the problems facing our world.
For more information, please visit www.FragileOasis.org.
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
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.
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.
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.
For more information, please visit www.FragileOasis.org.
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!
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 FragileOasis.org 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.