Fragile Oasis

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The Pieces Come Together

Four days ago our rocket was in pieces, scattered across the floor of the assembly building. Like anxious parents checking on their sleeping children, we took one last peek inside our Soyuz spacecraft. Everything was tucked in where it should be.

Three days ago the pieces started to come together, like giant blocks from a Lego set.

Two days ago all the pieces were assembled into the final form of our rocket.

One day ago our rocket rolled out on a train car from the assembly building to the launch pad. This is the same pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from in 1961. This launch pad made history, and still does. Within half an hour, our rocket went from laying down to standing up.

Today, the day before launch, last-minute touches are being made to our rocket in preparation for launch, and we crew members are doing the same. There are technical briefs, a conference with the upper management (back home we say “Big Cheese,” here they say “Big Pinecone”; in any language it’s the same), a press interview, and one last chance to be with our families. We share a movie. By tradition, we watch the classic Russian film “White Sun Of the Desert.” We share a meal. No one speaks of this as a last supper, but it is. One last hug, a good laugh, a good cry, and my family departs.


Our ride awaits! Tomorrow we walk to our rocket and climb the stairway that leads into space. The sky is not the limit, at least not anymore. What an adventure—and I have not even left the planet yet.

Editor's note: Don, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 8:16 a.m. EST Wednesday (7:16 p.m. Baikonur time). NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 7:30 a.m.