Baikonur – Day 12

Which is the front, which is the back…

Another great day! I sent a couple photos of our first activity of the day – the rollout! It was an early start but well worth it! It was amazing to see the vehicle coming out of the dark along the tracks toward us. It was really cold out, but I think we all almost couldn’t wait to get out in the elements to see it. The sun isn’t coming up until after 9am, so it was only a little dawn by the time it got to the crossroads where we were – most of the time it was difficult to see. It was also really cold – to the point that the camera batteries were dying. Highly suggest keeping the camera as warm as possible, even taking the batteries out and in your pocket if this happens next year. I didn’t get the photos I wanted partially because of this and partially because my hands were freezing when I was trying to take the pictures. So, the professionals got the best pictures. Denis was concerned that we would get cold so we weren’t really even let out of the bus until he knew it was the correct time. For the roll out, it was when the security and dogs walked by as far as I could tell from the conversation.

Another funny thing about the rollout was that the security guys were actually pretty nice – well they were probably laughing at us. Folks like to put coins down on the tracks and the little kids of course were loving this idea. Sometimes the security folks don’t let you do that. The tracks are sort of cordoned off, but for some reason the security guys where we were standing were pretty nice about letting folks approach and put something on the track. The funny thing was that they didn’t correct anyone – not sure they knew either but, the coins were all lined up on the first set of tracks. Well, the vehicle rolled by on the second set of tracks. Sort of funny that they just stood there and let everyone put stuff in the wrong place.

It was also so cold that we couldn’t really tell who was who. I only later found out that a lot of people were there. Maybe some type of identifying feature would be good. Of course I saw Trisha – she was in a bright red coat. But most others, except the kids because they are small people, were unidentifiable. Aki had his face mask on and we could only see his eyes – ninja man, but he was warm.

Next stop was the launch pad. Again it was really cold so Denis only let us off the bus as it was getting to stopping point. That was a really good idea. At least the sun was now up (I think it was about 30 minutes after we were at the tracks). Denis, Yuri, Aki and I got the best seat in the house for this one! We actually went down in the flame trench area and watched as the rocket was erected over our heads! The four of us didn’t have hard hats so as it was standing up, Denis was again worried that something might fall on our heads. He was good to look after us. There are a number of stages to get the rocket in the correct place, but it is very simple and elegant. The more and more you see and get to know about Russian engineering, you can’t help but respect the logic. It is interesting how differently folks solve the same problems. For example this rocket sits on pegs, essentially. There is some support structure around it since it is tall and has to sit out there on a launch pad for a day in any weather. But before the launch all the support structure is removed and the thrust of the engines themselves overcomes the weight of the vehicle and it is lifted in the sky. The pegs are really only there to hold the vehicle above the flame trench. No pyro bolts or anything like that to worry about.

After getting back from our frozen adventure, it was time for the ceremonial haircuts. I think I lost more hair of all these guys put together…I was only going to get a trim, but Tatiana the hair cutter seemed to be having a good time, so I let her cut away. It isn’t that much shorter, but it took a little while. Don got a buzz cut essentially. Oleg had his longish hair shaped – a little off the sides, but still longish on the top. Andre – well, he didn’t get anything cut off. Aki got such a nice haircut the pretty interpreters were calling him Tom Cruise. Yuri is saving his haircut until the next time we are here…

This is also the day when management stops by. We had a meeting with Joel, Bill Gerstemeir from HQ, Melanie from JSC, and the ESA top manager here the moment. That was fun – we were behind the glass and had to talk through the microphone. All nice words and some updates about which commercial vehicles were really going to make it to the ISS during their expedition. Great to see familiar faces and enjoy a couple laughs with them. After the big management came in, our immediate management showed up. For the US side it was LA and Mike Barratt. For ESA it was Frank DeWinne, for Jaxa it was Koichi. What is so cool about all that is that they are all long duration flow crewmembers. For a long time, this was not the case – people with shuttle experience only who really didn’t have a great idea about all of this. So, it really felt like friends visiting who really care and know what a long duration is going through. Good friends!

The rest of the day was filled with the usual, a jog, badminton, torturing Sasha in the gym a little more and a banya. I didn’t plan on working out for 2 hours but somehow it ended up that way. When I walked into the gym Sergei Krikalov was playing badminton with Evgeny. Evgeny had apparently been playing for hours too and had to leave to get the banya cranked up. So, Sergei challenged me – I should have known better. He was on the first expedition to the ISS with Shep so I have known him for a long time. He is completely competitive – we have had swimming races against each other in Star City over the last 10 years and in that I had the advantage. Badminton is something these guys play quite a lot, so I was an idiot to try and play with him. It was fun though, lots of slamming at each other. I think I got better over the hour of torture. It was sort of funny though, at one time the birdie came wizzing over the net at my head and hit me right in the forhead. I told him the red mark would look like the typical Indian dot, so no worrries!!!!

Then on to torture Sasha. Today I taught him lunges, rows and deadlift. We took it sort of easy, with only a couple sets. I think I will avoid lifting tomorrow so we all have a day of rest from this rigorous leg regime. Dima and Igor showed up as we were finishing up with a pullup ladder, so of course we needed to play 4 person badminton. Dima, whose nickname is now, Medvedyonik (little bear – since he looks like a little kid with thick hair and semi-stout body) and I won – but it was a close game.

On to the banya – which of course I was sort of late for. Oleg, Yuri, Evginy and Joe were there. I think Aki was sound asleep and Andre was busy. Oleg and Joe needed to leave early for dinner, but Yuri, Evginy and I stayed for a while longer and decided we were the banya close out crew. There was an option to do it again tomorrow, but we all will be busy getting ready for the last night so we decided that would be it. We had a great time, recapping this week’s events and were cracking up thinking about this funny place.

When we got back, it seemed like our third floor was alive with action. We grabbed Aki and Yuri’s doc, Alexander and any bypassers, Kirill, Joe and Bakes and did a couple more toasts. This time to our crew and the 705 vehicle. That was sort of cool. It felt like our time here as backups was coming to an end…fingers are crossed for no slipping!!!! So, since we were sort of loud, we got kicked out of the Yuri and Aki’s room. I meant to mention that the walls here are very, very thin! So, Andre and Oleg were in the next room and sort of trying to sleep so we had to leave. No big deal, down to Bake’s room on the second floor for some more chatting and laughing. Too much – even Don popped in for a quick “breakfast cylinder” with a big old smile on his face. Seeing family here is really nice…

Finally – sleep…

Now, that is a great picture!!!!  ISS overhead.  That means the phasing (not sure if that is the correct term) of the ISS and Baikanor are on top of each other…time for a launch!!!!

Now, that is a great picture!!!! ISS overhead. That means the phasing (not sure if that is the correct term) of the ISS and Baikonur are on top of each other…time for a launch!!!!

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Baikonur – Day 11

Check out these photos
The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft is rolled out by train on its way to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011.  The launch of the Soyuz spacecraft with Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Russia, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers is scheduled for 7:16 p.m. local time on Wednesday, December 21.  Photo Credit (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

The days are going by quicker now…so I am getting behind.  So, I am actually writing about yesterday and I promised myself I will finish today before I go to sleep today.  Well, yesterday that promise probably couldn’t have happened anyway – one funny led to another and I think I was up pretty late.  I know I was up pretty late, because 7am came mighty early today.  I will get to that later…

I am also going to apologize to my family for this note – there is a bit more space specific stuff in here, which may not make a lot of sense.  But these are notes for me, and some future commanders, that might be good to know.  I am just trying to capture the experience.  Sorry if it gets sort of boring.

So yesterday started out pretty calm.  I think we had just a couple classes on the list, and they were pretty cool classes indeed.  The SAR folks were here – again, old friends I have worked with before when I was the deputy.   These are the guys who pick you up after you land and the ones who coordinate all the helo’s and airplanes along the initial flight path, just in case there is a problem and you have to land right away.  They brought in all the ballistic charts and showed us the flight path, what airplanes and helos would be where and how they coordinate.  I watched one launch from the SAR facilities before.  They are up in a little tower with comm along the flight path for the different SAR assets.  Pretty cool.

There were more folks from Energia as well, along with Sasha Kalerie.  They talked a bit more about the rendezvous profile.  They showed us the predicted, projected flight path the vehicle would take for the rendezvous.  Lots of charts and calculations showing the burn sequence, what types of burns, how long, which engines, etc for the rendezvous that the computer was going to do/calculate.  We were shown all the projected numbers for comm sessions, day/night cycles, planned time of approach start (5 minutes after sunset).  We didn’t get a copy of all those charts, but the prime crew did.  I think it is potentially something I would put in my orbital flight book to check out before rendezvous.  So, my impression is that they wait until as close as possible, so the ISS is in a stable-ish configuration before they make all these calculations and give you an idea of what the profile is going to look like.  Both discussions were really interesting and very informative.

The middle of the day was sort of spent tracking down little items.  Maybe I make more of a mess than I clean up – but just trying to help Don in any way possible.  There was a question about a semi-critical piece of hardware that is to fly on Soyuz.  No one had laid eyes on it yet.  Don knew that it was delivered to the Moscow with Bob Behnken, but not sure exactly where it was at this point.  After emailing our main POC here in Russia, Joel, I was told it was in Baikonur and being handed over to the Russians just today.  It is a tester for circuit cards which are going to be replaced in our main computers on the ISS – it is a big deal that we have the correct cards, and this oscilloscope tester will help verify that we have spares onboard.   The software update is needed to update the computers so they can account for the new commercial vehicles and other stuff, in the very near future.  Don will be using this equipment pretty shortly after he arrives.

We all chatted a lot during the day – I found out that Tricia Mack and Chris Guiletti are here and working on packing the next Progress so they were exactly in the right place to check out and ask the right questions.  Tricia and I chatted on the phone and she got right on it with her counterparts.  Her and Chris sent us pictures of how the equipment was packed with their s/n and p/n.  Sasha and I double checked it on the manifest and found that the parts are to be packed on the Divan.  Stuff can’t go into the vehicle now since it is on  it’s side for assembly to the rocket, so the packing will happen after it get erected tomorrow.   Sasha, Yuri and Dima will deliver the flight books and the rest of the stuff tomorrow to be loaded into the vehicle, so Sasha promised me he would check out if the tester was indeed onboard.  I am hoping this sort of 2 pronged approach of checking and rechecking will ensure the darned thing is loaded on the Soyuz.

Speaking of loading things, this was the perfect day to see exactly what one can and cannot bring onboard.  There is an allotment of 1.5 kg of stuff we can carry.  Then there is “worn on” stuff, like watches, glasses, flashlights that can be literally worn on by you.  Then there is other flat-ish “stuff” that can be packed.  Then there is a medical kit.  Then there is a small medical kit….As you can see, the lines between all this “stuff” can get a little blurry.  And, there are rules about what you can and can’t take.  For example, hooks on fish hooks had to be cut off – nothing too sharp.  There seems to be always a new rule, and that is probably because people all bring different things with them.  But the process isn’t very straight forward and requires a bit of negotiating – well maybe I should say haggling.  That might be a better description…So, I tried to spend a little time with our Russian Soyuz instructors, since they are the ones that are essentially responsible for all this.  By dinner time, they needed all the flight data file back from the crewmembers so they could arrange it for delivery the next morning.  Lots of work for them actually.

After lunch, around 4pm, I heard and saw the bus pulling into the Baikonur hotel across the street.  It is in the background of the flag pictures.  So, we knew all the families and guests had arrived.  The first thing for them is to put their bags down and come on over.  Both Don and Andre got to spend some time with their families here today.  Pretty cool!  Andre’s kids are young so they could only see him behind the glass, but they apparently loved it.  They got to talk to him using a microphone, so they were singing, laughing and just having a good time with Dad behind the glass.  Kids always seem to find the glass half full side of things – I love that.

In the meantime, I met my lifting “student”, Sasha in the gym.  We had a badminton warm up since Kirill – the Russian flight surgeon who is pretty cool (however some others think he is too serious, but since I sit next to him at meals I have realized that he likes to work out, eat well and is sort of our keeper/alarm clock/ schedule reader, etc), was using the bar.  Today I taught Sasha how to do single leg squats, standing rows, and abdominal workouts.  I was happy to see the Russian trainer and Kirill still in the gym – while we were doing this.  Again, I can’t hurt this guy – he is the main guy who will be talking to the crew as they take off and when they are on orbit during critical events with the Soyuz.  All went well – although Kirill was goading us on to do 4 sets of single leg squats – I can feel it took a toll on my butt, not sure how Sasha’s is doing?!?!?!

After that time for dinner and some relaxing.  There is the opportunity to see spouses at night – but it was a long day for the guests, so Don and Mickey decided sleeping might be a better option (tomorrow is an early start). The night before folks had watched a movie called “Get him to the Greek.”  I had seen it.  Don watched about half and fell asleep.  So we decided to go watch it.  Bakes has a DVD player in his room so we watched there – Bakes was off having pizza with the families downtown Baikonur.  We watched the movie – it is crude, but pretty funny.  Not sure I would recommend it – but a good laugh.  After chatting for a while – time to go to bed.

Well, I thought I was going to bed, but instead, ended up really checking out all the Flight Data File.  Yuri and Sasha were packing it all up.  Got to see how all the “stuff” is loaded into the books.  How the pencils are connected to the books.  Which books go in the FDF container, which go in the BO.  They had all the “stuff” spread out in their room – and by the time I left – well after midnight  – it was neatly packed  up and ready to go to the Soyuz.  I strongly recommend getting to know these guys well enough (for many reasons) to feel comfortable watching what they do.  It has a direct impact on what we get, where we find it, when we get stuff.  Good folks.

That was enough for one day for sure…

Baikonur – Day 10

Well, it is the weekend…like we need more rest!

But seriously, it is the last day before lots of stuff starts to happen so it is essentially a good day off.

We got to sleep in again which was nice.   We woke to a beautiful, crispy winter day.  The sun shining on all the little snow flakes making the place glisten – seriously, everyone was commenting on how beautiful it is with the snow so shiny.  I took some pictures with my BB so they don’t do it justice, and I hope I can get some D2X photos later or tomorrow to show it a little.

Don, Oleg and Andre by the Christmas Tree, squeaky music still playing.

Don, Oleg and Andre by the Christmas Tree, squeaky music still playing.

The big activity of the day was signing – not really for the backup crew, just a few for us.  But the prime crew has programs to sign.  They are really nice, but probably over 500 of them.  We all got a couple to take home which is great.  Lots of info about the crews and the Soyuz.  It is seriously a good reference document and done very thoroughly.  I love it.  We took lots of photos of the prime crew signing and Don made the pictures into a time lapse movie –very fun!  I am learning a lot from him.  He definitely makes life here interesting.  Again, I feel really lucky to be spending time with this prime crew as well as our own crew.  Lots of time to get to know one another –priceless as they say.

My favorite instructor twins, Petrovich and Pavlov.

My favorite instructor twins, Petrovich and Pavlov.

It was so beautiful from my window, I decided I needed to go for a run.  As I was leaving the building the rest of the gang (trainers, instructors, etc) were returning from the market.  My favorite twins, Petrovich and Pavlov were outside so luckily I got a picture with them (attached).  They are the old guard instructors – very animated but lovely.  Again, I feel very lucky to get to know these folks.  Then I ran down to the end to do my laps.  As I was jogging through the trees the light wind was blowing the big flakes off the trees in my face.  Actually, it felt really nice and was sort of fun as the sun was still shining brightly in this “snowstorm!”  When I got to the Proton rocket, I saw a big German shepherd sniffing around the trees – well probably peeing on one of the trees.  He saw me, we stared at each other for a moment.  It was neat to see his big healthy body in the snow.  I have seen German shepherd here before as guard dogs.  He might have been one of the offspring, since he looked really good.  Not like a stray.  He slipped through the thrones of the fence and took off as I got closer.  I did my jog and then went into the gym to warm up  and lift a bit.

Masha was at the desk and watching TV with Dima.  I think I guilted Dima into coming to the gym.  Aki and Sasha were already in the gym with the head doctor.  Dima soon joined us.  We all lifted a bit.  I showed Sasha how to do squats and RDL-I was seriously a little afraid of doing this.  He is the PRIME launch person for the prime crew so I was constantly critiquing him and making him use his back correctly.  I couldn’t stand it if he got hurt before the launch…yikes!  We had fun in the gym together and then had to have a round of badminton!  It was serious stuff!  Even Don’t doctor, Joe Dervay was into it…we have pictures to prove it!  Again, really great folks and I am really happy to be able to come here and get to know all these folks.  They really make the experience.

The badminton teams... Aki, Dima, Sasha and me.   It was Aki and Sasha against me and Dima.  Sasha and Dima are our trainers.  Sasha is the prime crew instructor and Dima is our crew's instructor.  They will be in the launch bunker at launch.  They are the voice that talks to the crew and reads them all the instructions they are to do.  They work hand in hand with the folks here who process the vehicle to get it read for the specific crews.  They are our advocates and good friends.

The badminton teams… Aki, Dima, Sasha and me. It was Aki and Sasha against me and Dima. Sasha and Dima are our trainers. Sasha is the prime crew instructor and Dima is our crew’s instructor. They will be in the launch bunker at launch. They are the voice that talks to the crew and reads them all the instructions they are to do. They work hand in hand with the folks here who process the vehicle to get it read for the specific crews. They are our advocates and good friends.

Maybe I am feeling like this is all coming to an end quickly – made me think about all the people here to support this launch.   I’ve heard it said many times before, it isn’t what you do, it is who you do it with which makes the event worthwhile.  I believe that to be true.  The people make the process.   More and more people are on their way early tomorrow morning.  Don told us that his family is leaving the Volga tomorrow around 3am.  It will be along day for all of them.  We will be here waiting to greet the next group and hope to make their experience as memorable as ours has been so far.

This is Tanya and Natasha.  Officially, they are our interpreters here.  One for each crew.  Unofficially, they are of course our friends, confidants, photographers, nurses, dancing partners, "get you out of a bad situation" folks!  All around great people you can really count on and trust.  We are lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people.

This is Tanya and Natasha. Officially, they are our interpreters here. One for each crew. Unofficially, they are of course our friends, confidants, photographers, nurses, dancing partners, “get you out of a bad situation” folks! All around great people you can really count on and trust. We are lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people.

Another trip to the banya this evening – we are lucky!  It is cold out there.  Just went for a little walk with Dr. Joe.  I heard there was hockey – but no one was on the ice.  I slid around on it – thinking curling might be a little safer overall than hockey at this moment in time.  The sun is starting to set, so the banya will be a nicer place to be than outside in the elements!

Banya was nice.  We had some really nice conversations about life and politics.  Funny.  I stayed for a little while longer and chatted with the trainer, Evgeny.   He is a strength and conditioning trainer like Beth was.  He is really a nice guy.  I learned he was a bike rider and genuinely a great sportsman.  He has good ideas about cosmonaut training.  Fun to chat with.

On the way back, I chatted a little with Masha.  She is my friend who works at the front desk.  I think we may go out in town the night of launch.  It is late, so we have to stay in Baikonur, and I haven’t been out of the prison compound.  So, with her living here, it might be fun to hang out with her.  We agreed, that is what we will do.

Also ran into the head Soyuz instructor.  He is a little devious and was prodding me to come over to make our Dima sing.  Did I mention, he is really a good guitar player and singer – he is just shy.  I think Yuri is trying to get me help Dima get out of his shyness.  Could be funny.  I will report later…

The pool..not really used right now...

The pool..not really used right now…

The basketball/hockey rink...I'm going to check it out.  They say folks are playing...

The basketball/hockey rink…I’m going to check it out. They say folks are playing…

Baikonur – Day 9

Since we have been spoiled, getting up at 0730 was sort of difficult today…but it was worth it! What a day! Something different every day it seems. And we had to wear our flight suits rather than PT gear or jeans.

Got up early – I didn’t even hear the alarm go off. I slept well and didn’t even notice the springs last night. Kiril, the Russian flight surgeon had to wake me up by knocking on the door this morning. Not sure if it was from lifting (I did a lot of pull-ups yesterday at the end of lifting – plus the endurance billiards game I told you about) or just getting tired in general. Anyway, it was great sleep and I felt ready to go after I was woke up. Got ready quick and had some pictures this morning.

I forgot to mention, there is a little army of ladies who wait outside our little wing for us to leave for breakfast everyday. They race in here, clean your room, take your clothes away for washing and are out of here by the time we get back from breakfast. I see them periodically around the building, but I think our rooms have priority between 1000-1030. They are wear blue-ish uniforms of a dress or skirt. Today, they were all dressed up in their civilian clothes all waiting for us for a picture all together!!! They all had big smiles on their faces. I saw the lady who usually cleans my room and she had a huge smile on her when I complimented how nice she looked. Very cool.

Next we went down to breakfast and the entire cooking crew was there waiting for us for a picture as well. So nice – and really yummy food. I can’t say enough about them – very nice, hard working people.

Then it was off to the Premerka. Aki and I got on the correct bus today – the beige one, so we have learned. Both buses were off with the police escort. With the sirens sounding every now and then, it really seems like a prisoner movement…Aki mentioned that and I was chuckling – watch out local people the prisoners are on the move!!! Another snowy, even foggy looking countryside out there. Pretty in it’s own way. Bakes was commenting on how the antenna set up looks just like what we have at White Sands. Physics, or someone thought the other one had a good idea, not quite sure.

We arrived at the bldg 254 (I think) were the crew suits up and where the Soyuz is. We went in front of the commission to say hello, and essentially got right into the check. We, the backup crew was first for this one. We went up and into the vehicle, told to check out a couple of things and say if we liked them for our vehicle next spring. There are rubberized straps on the left side for my books – that was added since last time in the vehicle. The BO was packed. Really only half of the divan is usable now. I put in a picture of the hatch, with the shroud on. The square hatch is really how they will get into the vehicle and then they will go “down” into the CA (the second picture to see how crowded it is in there – and we don’t have space suits on). So, we checked out our places – Aki and I took some pictures, but again, didn’t want to mess anything up in there. Yuri was in and out, saw what he wanted to and got out pretty quickly. Aki next and then me. When I started to get up from my seat, I hit the Zashlonki with my shoulder and instantly it went to closed position – sensitive. We got out and had a little tea as was the prime crews turn.

Then, we had the traditional ceremony. The backup crew is responsible for testing the rocket fuel – that is our job you know. Making sure all is good for the prime crew’s rocket. Remember this program is really steeped in tradition. We entered a room with some of the designers, the heads of this department and got ready for the tasting. A clear 1liter plastic bottle with a Rocket Fuel label on the side was waiting for us as well as pickles, croutons, orange slice. I think the original was just with croutons. The fuel is 96% or so, so it was recommended to add some water. I did that! Yuri recommended not breathing in after tasting it, good advice. We had our toasts and took lots of pictures. Very nice group.

Next the prime crew was out of the vehicle and we were ready to report on the what we saw. Not much to say, essentially, all was good. So, the chief and Energia management came in to give a little toast as well. Again, all traditions.

All of us climbed on our buses and then went to the museum on the cosmodrome. I have been there before. It is interesting, and that is where the capsule for two dogs is in fact. There is a stuffed bunny and some rat looking creatures in the capsule, and old pictures of the dogs. Pretty funny. Of course there is a lot of great space memorabilia there – folks will see it when they come. It is located next to the preserved homes of Korolov and Gagarin when they were there in the 60s. Lots of history!

Luckily that was it for the afternoon. It was a tiring day, even though we really didn’t do much. Got back for lunch and a nap.

Got a quick workout in and went to the banya – now as Don says “time to power down the rom.” Such a geek!

That is enough for now!!!!

P.S. I forgot on other major stop we made before we went to the museum – we went to see the rocket assembly building. That was really cool. I will probably kill your email’s if I send some pictures we took with the good camera, so I will search around to see if anyone has a low res picture. It was really amazing seeing probably 3 or 4 rockets worth of boostere (carrots – side boosters) Then on to “their” rocket. All so shiny and new. Lots and lots of engines. The assembly happens nearby the museum and the homes. It leaves the building around 0700 in the morning on rollout day, but has a pretty long train ride to get to the launch pad. So, the buses will meet it at the tracks around 0830. Again, the capsule isn’t on the rocket yet – not action before it’s time – and it is only a couple days until launch amazing!

Baikonur – Day 8

Funny Day!

This is the day when they do all the canned press pictures.  We have to dress up, look pretty and go out and about for the press to take our pictures.  Those are the ones you see on the ROSCOSMOS website.  I think this is the day the crew plants trees, but it is already done.  The prime crew are all experienced in this arena and already have trees, so no need to be digging up the frozen earth.  Too much.

It started out as training.  We were all dressed up, our pretty books were on the table.  Our instructor and translator were all dressed up too.  We went through an emergency descent after a depress scenario and we even asked questions.  It looked good.  At the same time the prime crew was being filmed doing a simulation of a rendezvous on the computer, behind the glass.  The computer stand was turned to face the glass so the cameras got a good view.  We moved out of the press room/conference hall and went down the hall to the area where the pool table is.  There we had our pictures taken playing Billiards (Oleg and Andre), playing chess (Don and Yuri) and playing ping pong (Aki and me).  After our strenuous day, we went for a walk and got our pictures taken at the end of the walkway nearby where I see the dogs.  We walked back and the prime crew had their photos by the Christmas tree.

We got a workout in.  I met a gym named Roman.  He is a security guy who is here at the hotel.  He was in the gym.  He complimented me on my deadlift technique.  Apparently he works in a gym in Moscow (although he is pretty skinny) and knows how to lift correctly.  I told him (I think) about how we need to practice these lifts on earth for space.  He seemed genuinely surprised that we had lifting equipment in space.   It is funny how I think everyone knows what we do in space.  I am getting the impression that even in the business what we do isn’t widely known.   We do have an unique and interesting perspective I guess.

One thing I wanted to mention was the springs in the bed…at least in my room and in Andres.  The mattress must be really thin because I can feel the springs.  Not horrible, but they hurt after a little while if they are on a bone.  My ankle was hurting and I realized that the springs were poking into it.  Then I realized that whatever part of my body was down, on the mattress was usually cold.  Sort of reminded me of sleeping in Joe’s garage – and the only way to make that a peaceful night sleep was by taking sleepy juice.  No juice here, and it isn’t that bad, but remarkable.  Apparently Andre asked for an extra cover to put under him.  He was surprised that it bothered me – he thought he was just big.  So, beware when you are here and ask for the extra cover to get a good night’s sleep.

We have a banya this evening and then I think more badminton.  It is fun to do that with our trainers.

Well the banya went well as usual.  Aki brought Saki with Gold flakes in it.  We all wanted to see if the gold flakes will show up tomorrow….interesting stuff.

Then on to the games.  I got my butt kicked in this very strange billiards game.  It is sort of funny.   Not like in the US.  Only white balls with numbers on them.  You actually hit the ball trying to use other balls for the physics to get the ball you hit in…weird.  But it sort of makes sense and then you can eventually when you are goo, not like me, get two balls in at once.  It was troublesome for me.  Plus the table is big and it is hard to make those shots behind your back, etc.  I don’t love that game.  It went on for more than on hour.  I think the folks at Grumpy’s would not be pleased with this game at all.

Time for sleeping.  We have an early morning tomorrow.  Our second Premerka!  Can’t wait to see the vehicle with it’s shroud on!!!!  Will send pictures…

Baikonur – Day 7

We rested some more!!!!

Whoever said this place wasn’t good was a fool!

More of the same today.  A cloudy, overcast day.  It was really windy at night – actually howling.  The rooms really get a little colder when it is cold outside.  Might need to get another blanket if it keeps up.  Bakes told us that it could get down to -17 for roll out with wind.  Yikes!

More flying classes, Soyuz classes and ISS Classes.  Petrovich is talking away about comm..  I am sure there have been some mistakes or we wouldn’t hear about it so much.  Classic Pavlov with all his diagrams reviewing every little lamel and how it works.  They are a funny pair.  But they do remind us of everyone who has every messed up.  It is pretty fun.

Good time to work out.  Got to the gym, went for a run and got engaged in a small badminton tournament with Aki, Dima, Sasha and Igor.  Then Oleg Kotov and Dennis came into the mix and kicked all of our butts….

Finally as I was coming back from my run, I noticed they put a Christmas tree out in from of the Cosmos Hotel.  I will send a picture – very cute and little squeaky Christmas music is playing from it.

All us USOS folks got together last night to watch O’Brother.  Another funny look at society.  Too Fun and funny here.

So christmasy here....

So Christmasy here….

Baikonur – Day 5 & 6

Another nice day in Kazakhstan…

Not so clear today – a little over cast but still nice.  Not much wind so a good day to go for a jog and check on my doggies at the end of the path.

Quiet day here today.  The lady at the front desk – called a dejurny – is an old friend of mine, Masha.  I think she will be here for the rest of the week so we can catch up.  A couple of years ago I was here as the Astronaut office rep for the launch of Mike Barratt with Gennady Padalka.  As the rep, I stayed in the Cosmo Hotel at Launch -3 until launch.  I met Masha back than when she ran the bar here.  Her and I stayed up late one night with others…  I saw her again when I was her for Tracy’s launch and we had some Champagne and chocolate after watching her successful launch.  That was a lot of fun.  Even though it seems like I only see her every couple years, it seems like we had talked only yesterday.

Easy day so far.  A little flying on the simulator downstairs with our crew.  Yuri is funny – sort of divided up the tasks so he had one hand controller and I had the other.  We flew off of one port and docked to another port.  I love the way he does things.  Pretty relaxed and nonchalant about stuff.  He was happy to be done after one round of that, so we asked and Aki got a chance to try it out today as well.   It is a little different than flying an airplane, the robotic arm or the shuttle.  Of course there are hand controllers, one rotational, one translational.  The rotational one is a little different because it is like flying from the tail of the vehicle.  Translation is pretty much the same, but jets are at the back of the vehicle so you get a little opposite sense for the first second you put in a left or right impulse.  At Star City we do this in a trainer, he we did it with a laptop simulator.  It is pretty nice though.  The instructor has the contact speeds and docking location to “grade” you on.  It is really just for practice here, we had out “tests” on this before we left star city.

Then we had class to review flight procedures for launch.  I have my flight books here – they are pretty!  We don’t want to mess these up, so we have left them with our instructors for the most part.  I brought me copy of the main procedures to review “just in case”.  We have books on Orbital flight, Off-nominal situations, reference material and reserve procedures.  The real book all They all have colorful covers.  Pretty neat to see and feel the real things.  I am a little nervous to write in them, so I am just studying them for now.  If Don or Andre to slip on the ice, then I will be a little more aggressive and transfer my notes.  My fingers are crossed that there will be no slipping, everyone will launch when they are supposed to and we will get to come back here in the spring.

Aki and I played a wild game of badminton with our Soyuz instructor and Dr. Savin.  Dr. Savin is the doctor here who is essentially in charge of quarantine – we affectionately call him Dr. No.  he doesn’t always say no, but he is the one who holds the line when folks ask if they can see outsiders, etc.  Quarantine is a funny thing here as I have experienced it in the past.  We will see how it goes this time around.   So, back to the badminton game.  Dima was schooling us on the court, but we were catching on and imitating his tactics.  It was a fun and intense game at times.  Lots of good volleys.  I am going to need to work on my skills…

We played sort of early, 4:30 so the trainers and teams here could get ready for their shashlik party – hence the reason I didn’t send this earlier…we got done playing badminton, showered and headed down to the party.  It was fun – lots of toasts, lots of good conversations and good food.  We skipped dinner (again, too much food) and then went to have a teleconference with the on orbit crew.

Dan, Anton and Anatoly sounded great on the phone.  Talking fast, anxious to have the next Soyuz and its crew to come join them.  I hear Dan is working really hard so it will be good for him to have Don and Andre join him.  Don asked great questions about surprised, etc.  I thought the fact that they were rushed for Rendezvous seemed a little strange, but I will keep that in mind.  Dan suggested getting going an orbit before the flight plan suggests.  Not a bad idea.  They are getting the next Soyuz exercise equipment all ready to go, readying their sleep stations, etc.  It seems the next crew will be able to hit the ground running when they get there .  Pretty cool to really know they are leaving the planet in a week or so…wow!!!

Next we all seemed to get back to the Shashlik party.  Bakes told me that the sheriff was there and wanted to introduce us to get ready for Mike’s arrival here.  The sheriff seemed really nice.  He suggested that Mike just stay here and work/play with him while I am on orbit.  It could be sort of fun.  He has been here since 2004 I think and I think he will be here another year.  I asked how business was and he seemed to think it was good.  They use APS type guns for their work – not sure exactly what those are, but they are 9 mm and have magazine of 20 rounds.  I am sure Mike knows.  Well, the party went on for a while with live guitar playing, singing, dancing.  It was like a disco.  Hmmm – tiring.  I am either stiff from the serious badminton or from dancing.

Well, whatever made me sort of stiff, certainly made me tired for today.  This is why I am putting these two days together in one note.  Today was a day of classes, 2 on Soyuz, 2 on ISS.  We reviewed rendezvous, dangerous stuff on ISS, Immediate descent after launch, and ISS handover.  Not too much, but enough to warrant a nap before going to the gym.  I had a nice nap, went to the gym and then we all went to the banya.  Tonight is an early night and a good day to catch up on sleep.