Fragile Oasis

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Reporting Live From The Baikonur Cosmodrome

Here I sit in the quarantine facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. We arrived 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.

Our departure day started with a breakfast in our honor at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center where several dignitaries wished us well and then each of the crew members said a few words of thanks to everyone who prepared us for this journey. We then had a brief press conference near a memorial statue of Yuri Gagarin before boarding buses to the military airfield to start our 3 ½ hour flight to Baikonur. In the spirit of “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” the prime crew flew on one aircraft and the backup crew on another.

After landing in Kazakhstan, The Soyuz-21 crew was greeted by local and Russian Space Agency dignitaries before boarding crew buses bound for the crew quarantine facility.

After landing in Kazakhstan, we were greeted by local and Russian Space Agency dignitaries before 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 on another). We had a police escort for the 15 minute ride through the city of Baikonur to the quarantine facility.

Tuesday was the day for our first “Fit Check.” The day started with a 20 minute ride through the desert to the launch complex and Soyuz processing facility. After arriving at the Soyuz processing facility, the prime and backup crews reported to the State Commission (on the other side of a large window) and then took turns climbing inside our spacecraft.

Walking into the large hanger that contains various huge pieces that will soon become one large rocket, the first thing I saw was our rocket fairing. The rocket fairing will encapsulate our spacecraft at launch until we get high enough in the atmosphere where it can be jettisoned. On the fairing was a large painting of Yuri Gagarin, The word “GAGARIN” in large red letters going down the side, an emblem designating this as the 50th anniversary rocket, along with Russian and American flags.

Words cannot describe what an honor it is to have our launch coincide with the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first step into the Cosmos. As I stood there and looked at this incredible sight, it dawned on me that fifty years ago one nation launched one man into space and made that first step toward the human exploration of space. Today, 50 years later, the three of us on our crew represent the many nations of the partnership that is the International Space Station. Everyone in the partnership does not always agree with each other, but the strength of our partnership is that we are together, and we support each other in good times and bad.

I remember after the Columbia tragedy all the partners stood with NASA and together we persevered. Today we all stand with our Japanese colleagues as they overcome the tragedy of the earthquake. We all have proven that by working together we can accomplish amazing things including constructing in orbit the most complex structure ever built, the International Space Station. If we can do that in space, imagine what we can do working together to solve the challenges facing our planet!

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

The Soyuz spacecraft is very cramped and every inch of available space is taken up by either crew or cargo, but after spending so much time training inside the Soyuz simulators it actually feels very comfortable.

The highlight of Wednesday was the Flag Raising Ceremony. During the ceremony, which marks the beginning of this launch flow, we heard words from local and Russian Space Agency dignitaries before the prime and backup crews raised the Russian, American and Kazakh flags. Following the ceremony we conducted media interviews and had an opportunity to walk the grounds of the quarantine facility and get some fresh air.

Soyuz TMA-21 Crew speaks with reporters before a suited fit check

The remaining 1 ½ weeks left before launch will consist of procedure reviews, refresher classes, and participating in many more traditions that I hope to journal further in this blog.

The Fragile Oasis team is very close to going live with the new site which will include the Fragile Oasis on-line community. I encourage everyone to join the community and become a Fragile Oasis Crewmember so that you can follow along with this and future missions not just as spectators but as participants.

I also want to let everyone know that I plan on sending out tweets right up to launch with behind-the-scenes pictures. I will do this myself as long as I can. When I’m no longer able to tweet myself, my backup, Astronaut Dan Burbank will take over for me. We are using the hashtag #ToOrbit which for me means “Reporting Live from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.” When Dan Burbank is tweeting for me he will add ^DB to the tweets. Please stay tuned and please help spread the word about the live Twitter coverage here.

Photo: NASA/Victor Zelentsov