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Reporting Live From The Baikonur Cosmodrome

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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.

Crewmates Ron Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev, and Andrey Borisenko just before boarding the plane for a 3 and 1/2 hour flight from Star City to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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!

 After spendingsome time inside our spacecraft getting acquainted with the ship called“Gagarin,” the prime and backup crews each took turns getting into ourspacesuits and strapping into the spacecraft. Being in the spacecraft we willactually fly in, wearing our actual spacesuits was a great experience.

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 highlight ofWednesday was the Flag Raising Ceremony. During the ceremony, which marks thebeginning of this launch flow, we heard words from local and Russian SpaceAgency dignitaries before the prime and backup crews raised the Russian,American and Kazakh flags. Following the ceremony we conducted media interviewsand had an opportunity to walk the grounds of the quarantine facility and getsome fresh air.

 

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.

 I also want tolet everyone know that I plan on sending out tweets right up to launch withbehind-the-scenes pictures. I will do this myself as long as I can. When I’m nolonger able to tweet myself, my backup, Astronaut Dan Burbank will take overfor me. We are using the hashtag #ToOrbit whichfor me means “Reporting Live from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.” When DanBurbank is tweeting for me he will add ^DB to the tweets. Please stay tuned andplease help spread the word about the live Twitter coverage here.