Baikonur – Day 2

I forgot to mention something about yesterday…

Aki and I also asked the aircrew if we could come up to  the cockpit and see what they were doing.  It so happens that this airplane has 2 pilots, an FE between them and a Navigator who sits essentially under the aircrew in the nose of the airplane.  You have so sort of crawl in there to see what is going on.  Then there is a seat in there that the navigator occupies.  He has a desk, and all the instrumentation and tools to navigate and talk.  Very cool view from the very, very front of the airplane!

Backup crew hard at work!

Backup crew hard at work!

Today started off early for Baikonur standards.  We are usually on Moscow time, so breakfast doesn’t happen until 1000am, but today it was different, it started at 0800.  We needed to make sure we were on our way to the suit up room and spacecraft hangar to the Premerka – or fitcheck.

We got up and went outside to a snowy, but beautiful morning in Kazakhstan.  Aki and I mistakenly got on the wrong bus…the prime crew bus and were told about that very quickly – duhhhh.  Anyway, we now know that our bus in the brown and yellow one, not the blue and white one.  We took our seats in our “star trek” uniforms (our flight suits) and were on our way.  Along the long road we passed the newly built mosque and a wild black horse running in the snow.  Very beautiful, but I couldn’t get a good picture of the horse.

Calling home.

Calling home.

The ride takes about 40 minutes on a bus to get to the hangar.  It goes by very, very open sparse land.  Not a tree in site.  Lots of power lines, snow, tumbleweeds, looks like broken down buildings and not much else.  Again sort of surreal driving out there.

We finally got to the building with about 15 minutes to spare for tea.  We had tea and then went right into a conference with the folks who run the rocket processing.  It was sort of formal with both crews sitting behind the glass with microphones and the rest of the crowd on the other side of the glass making statements on how the vehicle processing was going.  The plan was also layed out.  The prime crew would go into their Soyuz first in flight suits, then we would go.  Then the prime crew was to get in their space suits for a pressure checkout, then they get into the Soyzu for a comm checkout.

So that is how it happened.  The prime crew went out to the Soyuz and climbed in to check out where everything was in the BO and the CA.  In the meantime, we had more tea, and then went to check out what stuff was to be packed in the BO.  Pretty cool to see the NASA stuff waiting there as well as the usual stuff like food containers, etc.   I saw EVA gloves, laptop computers, new software, medical equipment, new tools, etc.  It was pretty cool to see it all laid out with a place to pack it.  One has to remember that the Soyuz is small, so everything has to be weighed and put in a place not to disturb the center of gravity of the vehicle for control of the vehicle.

Next we went out to our bus to learn how to use the satellite phone, GPS, and laser range finder to record distance.  That could be used during rendezvous in case our range  and range rate equipment doesn’t work.  It was fun and I left a message for Dina on via the sat phone.  I know you were probably asleep when I tried you…but it was fun.  I used the laser range finder which was good, since that would be my task if we were ever to use that capability.  Works pretty good.

Next we were up for going into the Soyuz.  Aki and I  brought the nice D2X camera with us and were taking pictures of the prime crew and all the happenings when they were ready for us.

I am actually in the Soyuz in my seat...sort of cool!!!

I am actually in the Soyuz in my seat…sort of cool!!!

Yuri found us and off we went.  Pretty amazing to get in the BO, sit there and see the real vehicle.  Then we went into the CA.  I was the first one in with the help of the guy, Sasha who was in charge of the CA.  He showed me how to get in and how to take my seat appropriately.  We were only in our flight suits and we could see how little room the crew will have with their real space suits on.  Amazing.

We got out and had a little lunch while the prime crew was getting ready to get suited up.  I was like the paparazzi, taking pictures of them like crazy.  It was fun though, because this is really the time they pressure check their suits, load everything up that they will be using soon on and in their suits.  It went perfectly well and then they were off, looking like monkeys to the vehicle.  They stopped and had to talk to the press on their way to the vehicle.  Amazing, standing there with their suits on, air cooling equipment going, answering questions to people in white lab coats, hair nets and masks ( since it is a clean room facility – except for the backup crew who didn’t have to wear any of that…hmmm…).

We took lots and lots of pictures of them and the vehicle.  It was fun looking through the windows of the CA to see these guys get in and out of their seats.  Don said he fell asleep since HIS seat liner was sooo comfortable!!! Pretty cool.

At the end of their fit check, they cocked the seats, one at a time for the crew to see how close they would be to the panel.  Then they had to get out of the vehicle that way.  No easy tasks since they had to one by one get out of their seats, move over to the center seat, haul themselves up out of the CA hatch to the BO where folks were helping them.  We watched Andre get out of the left seat (and he is big) and it seriously looked like someone was giving birth as he finally emerged from the inside of the CA to the BO.  He saw us through the windows too and as usual, laughed with us!!!  He is great.

Then, as a good doublior, we had more Russian snack food from the table and relaxed as the prime crew repeated the sat phone, GPS and laser range finder exercise we had done.  On the way back we saw camels that looked good.  Big thick hairy coats.  They are ready for winter.  It is funny that I don’t usually associate snow with camels, but they do have to deal with it here too.

Great pictures, great day!!!

To cap it all off, I got to take a little run.  The run started as a walk with Don and Dr. Joe.  Then they went in and I jog around inside the complex myself.  I ended up doing laps.  The funny thing about the laps was that there was a dog at one end of my lap.  Every time I approached, it got up and started to run away.  Well, that happened for the first 3 laps or so.  I could see it was always in the same place so something was probably keeping it there.  It was sort of sitting in the fading sun.  By the 4th lap, is got up and just walked away rather than jogged away.  By the 5th lap it got up only.  By the 6th lap it just lifted its head from its sitting place.  And by the 7th lap, it was okay with me nearby.  I have a feeling dogs around here are not treated like  Gorby, Elsie and Bailey.  They are a little shy – but somehow this one started trusting me in about 30 minutes.  Pretty cool.

Then it was time for the BANYA!!!!  We all went to the sauna for a bit.  It was great in a little log cabin near the old swimming pool.  It was fun to go out in the snow and see the icicles hanging from the roof.  Pretty relaxing as we watched a Stalin serial which sipping herbal tea and eating Dutch cheese and yummy cookies!!!  Very nice.

The banya!

The banya!

Yuri, Oleg and we went to dinner.  Needed some real food after snacking all day on silly stuff.  We had yummy fish and cabbage.  I am liking this food.

Then we went and had a beer with Don, Mike b, Joe D., Ulrich and Aki.  It was nice to just hang around and chat about how things work here.  Life is good in the Baikonur prison…

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