Reporting from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the 53rd Anniversary of Sputnik, the 1st Object Launched into Space
Fifty three years ago today humanity was forever changed when our first few steps to extend human presence beyond our world were made. It is an incredible experience to be in that place where the first object Sputnik, and the first human Yuri Gagarin were launched into space. The Expedition 25 prime and backup crews have been in Kazakhstan for a little over a week in preparation for the October 8th Soyuz launch (Oct 7th in the US) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Our journey to Baikonur began on the 25th of September. That day started out with a going away ceremony at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City Russia.
After a series of toasts and wishes for a safe trip, the Expedition 25 Prime Crew had a brief press conference before we all boarded busses for our aircraft.
In the “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket” mindset, the prime crew boarded one aircraft and the backup crew boarded another for the 3½ hour flight to the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Baikonur is the once top secret launch facility where, besides Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, many others have begun the trip to the cosmos since 1957.
Upon arrival in Baikonur, each crew reported to Russian Space Agency Dignitaries and then traveled to the quarantine facility via a police escorted convoy (Continuing the “Not all the eggs in one basket” mindset by using different busses for the prime and backup crews). In addition to people greeting us along the way, we were also welcomed by some of the local wildlife.
Except for 2 trips to the Soyuz assembly facility and an excursion to space monuments and a space museum all of our pre-launch time has been spent in the cosmonaut quarantine facility. In the facility we attend pre-mission briefings, review classes, exercise, watch movies and participate in traditions and ceremonies.
Participating in the traditions has been a great experience. Shortly after arriving in Baikonur, we had a Flag Raising Ceremony where the crews raised the flags of their native countries and the flag of Kazakhstan which signaled the start of the pre-launch countdown.
The backup crew also had a tour of the city which included laying flowers on memorials to Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolev and visiting the spot where it was announced that Yuri Gagarin would be the first in space (and Gherman Titov would be his backup).
On one of our two visits to the Soyuz assembly facility, to verify the cargo and equipment locations of the Soyuz spacecraft, we also were able to tour two small houses, not far from the launch pad, where Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolev stayed prior to the historic flight in 1961 and we were also able to see the Buran Spacecraft.
In a few days, Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka, and Scott Kelly will launch from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from in 1961.
Six months from now, Alexander Samokutyayev, Andrei Borisenko and I will also launch from that same pad very close to the 50th Anniversary of the 1st Human Spaceflight. That will be a great honor to say the least. It is a wonderful experience to be in a place that has so much history and it is humbling to realize that so many sacrificed so much to push humans beyond our Earth. I understand that I am very fortunate to be able to participate in this endeavor where today we continue the tradition of pushing the boundaries of exploration.