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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