Mom’s visit to Russia Day 7

By Bonnie Pandya

Last night I made my chickpea dish.  It turned out very good.  At the end I added some sour cream, parsley and chopped green onions and everyone loved it.  It went well with the grilled chicken.  Tara, the flight surgeon made fries and a salad, The others brought desert, oh yes, I had a pkg. of cold pack cheddar cheese that went along with the bread Suni brought back from breakfast.   Before we ate, we all made a toast to Suni and Aki, even though he wasn’t there yet.  They presented them with some sort of certificate award they made up.  I didn’t get to see it yet but I took a picture of it.

“with degree”

Then we all had a glass of stout beer, with a shot glass of Bailey’s that we dropped in the beer and drank up fast.  It was pretty good.

“It was pretty good.”

We all went into cottage 3 and sat around the big table and ate.  Aki, his wife and little 3 yr. old son came in to join us.  They just came in from Moscow.  After Aki came in he got an award too. I guess there will be a lot more rewards handed out to them before they fly.

That darn Suni, I was wondering where she was so long and here she comes while the chicken was grilling, with wet hair.  She had to jog to the lake and take a swim.  Has to do all the things she likes before going up.  I don’t blame her.  After eating, Mark, the Army astronaut, said there was going to be a polycom with Houston to go over her assignment in space.  So around 9 she went down in Sheps bar with Aki and had the polycom.  I helped clean up the kitchen with Tara then went into the cottage to write about the Bolshoi tour.  Swannie came in and asked if I wanted to listen in to the call and get a little background of what Suni does. I went down to Sheps bar and watched.

She and Aki were talking to mission control about what they were going to do on the ISS.  After arrival, there were to have medical exams with ground control quite a number of times because you do not feel so good for a couple of days, then it will be once a week.  They went over the time line and are expected to do science 35 hrs./week. Suni and Aki will be doing an EVA and also they all have to put supplies away and do a host of other things.  There is no time wasted or just playing around.  Everything has to be done according to schedule.  Suni and Aki insisted that the science part isn’t going to happen as planned due to everything else they have to do.  Dina said she didn’t want them to miss a lunch or dinner because there was a timeline.  It’s craziness.  Every minute is accounted for and everyone is busy.  Joe will be handing things over to Suni at first because he has been up there and knows what’s going on.  Anyway, I can’t explain everything but it was very interesting.  These people from NASA get orders from others who in turn hand down orders to the crew.  It’s all politics and they have to produce so much science and write reports on everything they do so there is really no time wasted or for just playing around.  It is all serious business.  Suni is psyched to go but told them in no uncertain words what SHE will be doing.  So now, they are going to have another one one from Baikonur before she leaves.  Swannie was explaining everything to me but by this time I took out my hearing aids and had a hard time to hear him.

The others came down after the polycom which lasted about 2 1/2 hrs. with various groups talking to them from mission control.  I didn’t see the first part but only about 45 min at the end.  So now everyone was excited about watching the soccer game between Italy and Germany.  After a while I went to bed because I was coughing and tired out.  I went up and read my book for a while and finally fell asleep.  My nose is running  and dripping in the back so I was coughing a lot.  I will get some cough medicine from one of the Dr’s Friday.

Friday, June 29

I got up around 9 and Suni was already out jogging.,  No swimming today., it’s raining.  Weather is in 60’s and colder.  The doctor is coming over pretty soon to check me out.  I breathed some steam, and then took a shower and packed up my suitcase.  We sat around for a little while looking at Gorby’s pictures when he was a little baby.  So cute, no wonder why she loves him so much.  Everyone here knows Gorby.  The Russians love him but of course he was on his best behavior while he was here. Suni knows she spoiled him but he was the only one with her for quite a while.  Well, like she says, it is what it is……He is her baby…….

Vadim, one of the Russian drivers has been here since I was breathing steam.  He is making soup.  I’ve taken pictures so you will see.

Vadim and his soup.

He brought cut up lamb in a big covered pot and tons of vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, parsley, dill, and so much more.  Washed everything real good and cut everything up to just the right size.  He has three pots of soup boiling away on the stove and he is still chopping.  I need room to make mac and cheese.  Suni got her cookie dough batter together for her chocolate chip cookies with macadamia nuts.  Everyone is cooking for the big party tonight.  Around 50 to 60 people.  I hope it dries out otherwise I don’t know where everyone will be.  I also have two dozen sausages to cook up and a pkg of samosas.  Suni just went out with one of the other drivers, to get some more stuff.  Someone else is bringing in the beer since the beer fairy left for the US.  I am writing and as soon as there is room in the kitchen I will start the mac and cheese.  After a while we will go to the office here in Star City and give the girls a few little gifts I brought with me.  I see one burner on the stove is free so I better get busy.


Mom’s visit to Russia Day 6

By Bonnie Pandya

So today we woke up at 6:00 a.m.  Got ready, Suni went for a jog and the van driver, Vadim, was here at 7.  He took us and Steve Hart (who is a neurologist and had a practice in TX before joining NASA).  Also in the van was Igor Rudyaev, who is in charge of the Japanese astronauts and Takeo Miki, the Japanese flight surgeon.  We all went to the Volga in Moscow.  I found out that the Volga is only 30 miles away but it took us 2 1/2 hrs. to get there due to the bad Russian traffic.  Even though there is the metro, plenty of busses and street cars and vans, the traffic is still horrific.  The problem with Moscow is that you have to walk all over the place or walk to the metro to go anyplace.  I also found out that the women dress so beautifully because there are three women for every man so they want to look their best in case they are picked! ! !

We dropped off everyone at the Volga because they had meetings for the landing of the Soyuz on July 2nd.  It will be early in the morning so about Midnight on Sunday night.  Check out the NASA channel to be sure.  Suni and I were driven to the area where the Bolhi is located.  We were to go on a tour at 11:00 and we were early so we went to a small cafe and had coffee, an omelet and Suni ordered a basket of various breads.  We had bread and coffee while we waited for the omelet.  Excellent bread, some with nuts, wheat, and different kinds.  Her idea was to take the bread home for our dinner tonight.  We stayed there until 10:30 and then walked over to the Bolshoi and sat by the central square with water falls in the center and fountains.  We watch pigeons sitting in the fountains and washing themselves.  We took out some bread and fed them for a while.  We noticed people in front of the Bolshoi so we walked over to join them.

Pigeons near the Bolshoi.

We found out there were three women from Cambridge MA, old ladies on a tour and just got in to Moscow yesterday.  Also, there was a women from TX whose husband is in oil business and had meetings here so she was on the Bolshoi tour also.  I can’t believe we were here in 2005 at the Bolshoi watching the ballet, eating caviar and chocolates and drinking champagne.  Suni wanted to get tickets but they cost $1200. each.  When we went last time it was 500 rubles.  However, it has been renovated for the last 6 yrs.  We saw one of the last performances before it was closed.

It is just beautiful.  The different floors of the theatre were done in white with shiny gold and gold mat designs.  Every floor is a different design.  The seats on the main floor are wood with red designed seats.  The floor is wood like parquet.  In the back are completely red seats and the very best seats are red arm chairs.  In the center back is where the Royalty sits.  However, also in the boxes next to the stage on both sides are for the Romanofs, Putin, and various important people.  I think we sat in one of the boxes last time but not any near the stage.  The chandelier is magnificent, I took pictures so you will be able to see it.

Magnificent chandelier.

The orchestra pit is fantastic and the stage moves to accommodate the play or dancing.  I would love to see another Swan Lake there and drink champagne and eat caviar.  We had a wonderful guide and a translator who was very entertaining.

Now they have 17 glass elevators and all the red curtains no longer have the hammer and sickle but eagles and are also made of gold and red.  So we went up on the elevator to the top floor and looked down at the stage.  There are also chandeliers all around and the seats are extremely comfortable.

Suni and I at the Bolshoi.

After explaining everything to us, we went up to the top where they had a fantastic lounge.  Beautiful leather bar, white marble floor, beige, white, cream, bar tables, L shaped leather seating areas, champagne, wine refrigerator, various levels so you could move into another room with more bars and beautifully appointed.  On we went to a room where they had statues of people dressed in various costumes of different operas and plays,  One was the snow princess which Uri called Suni when she wore her blue life is good snow pajamas.  Suni doesn’t miss a trick.  She is aware of everything and can also understand the Russian so things we miss she picks up right away.  On to another room decorated with Royal coat of arms for various royalty etc.  A few more beautiful rooms and then we went down to minus 3 level where the floor was a fantastic design of brown, beige, white that was able to move up or down as you needed for different levels of stage, rolling curtains to close it off, piano, fantastic lighting so you didn’t even know you were 3 levels down with curtains that were made of plaster but looked like real drapery with lighting behind it so it seemed like windows.  Everything there was magnificent.  I hope my pictures can help describe it better.

So after we left there we met up with our driver and headed back to Star City.  We stopped a grocery store to pick up some chicken which the boys are grilling tonight.  We were tired so Suni and I fell asleep on the 2 1/2 hr. ride back.  Got home and took a rest.  Now I am cooking chickpeas with carrots, peppers, eggplant and zucchini, a big curry dish to go with the chicken.  Everything you cook here the guys love and finish it all up.  Suni is out jogging and exercising in the weight room.  I’ll take some pictures of that too.  Well got to check on my chickpeas.  Will write about things tomorrow.

Mom’s visit to Russia Day 5

By Bonnie Pandya

One of the drivers took us into Moscow.  In the van were Igor Rudyaev, a Russian man who takes care of the Japanese astronauts and Takeo Miki the JAXA Doctor for Aki.  We are staying in Moscow for a couple of days at the Volga Hotel.  Some of the rooms there are reserved for astronauts either coming or going from the US and Europe.  The rooms are very spacious but sparse.  Living room, bathroom, kitchen, and a bedroom.  The kitchen has a stove, refrigerator, freezer, pots, pans etc.  It is very nice and cleaned and has computer and hookups.  Some astronauts and office staff who work in Moscow live in the Volga.  We will meet up with Steve Hart, Suni’s flight surgeon who has just arrived from Houston.

After Suni went for a jog we met Steve Hart in the lobby.  We walked to a 50’s diner where we met up with some friends to have breakfast.  Chris Guilette, Alex Gerst, the German Astronaut, Reid Weisman, a Navy astronaut, Mike Hopkins, an Airforce Astronaut, Steve Swanson, “Swanie”  along with Irena, the head of all translators and transportation, and Tara, a flight surgeon from Texas.  We all had breakfast and sat around talking and taking pictures.

Two hours later Suni, Steve and I took a walk to the metro.  We met up with Mike Serber’s wife Trish and her two kids.  Mike is taking over Joel’s place who is head of everything in Russia and Kazakhstan.  Joel & his Russian wife and going back to Houston for another assignment.

Thank goodness for cell phones.  They come in handy when you want to meet up with someone like Trish and her kids.  They decided they wanted to go on the boat tour so we were able to meet them at the metro.  We arrived at the boat dock on the Moscow River and got tickets and went on the boat.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  We went on the top deck and had a beer.  The tour boats are continually going up and down the river to various stops like Gorky Park.

During the tour we saw one of the seven sisters, a huge and tall residential building that houses everything you need.  No reason to go out of the building for anything.  There are seven of these residential buildings around Moscow.

On the boat, one of seven sisters in background.

We also saw the monastery, Olympic stadium, the ski jump, the old chocolate factory, statues of Peter the Great and many more.  We saw people sunbathing on the banks of the river near the Tsarina park and as we got closer to the city we saw the Kremlin, Red Square and St. Basils.

I forgot to mention that the reason why there are so many flight surgeons arriving is because the Soyuz is landing on July 1st.  Quite a few of them will be going to the landing in Kazakhstan to take care of the astronauts returning to earth.

When we got off the boat we were on the east side of Moscow after boating for about three hours.  We again walked to the metro and got out about 3 miles from the Volga and began to walk back.  We stopped for tea half way home.  We continued on to the hotel.  I was so exhausted after all the walking that I read my book and fell asleep for a couple of hours.  We got ready around 7 p.m. and met Steve in the lobby.  We again walked to a Georgian restaurant about a mile away.  We had a nice dinner of eggplant rolls and rice with chicken.  Suni had cheese and bread and spinach tortolina.  Steve had soup and a lamb and rice dish.  I had tea and they had a beer.  Afterwards we walked back to the Volga.  At 10 p.m. it was still light out.  Steve brought me some anti-inflammatory medicine for my ankle and wrist which were swelling up.  I needed some throat lozenges also.  Otherwise I feel great!  Suni wanted to get a cab but I wanted to walk since I felt better after the meds.  When we got back to the Volga Suni showed me some stretches to do.

Tomorrow Suni has a press conference here in Moscow.  We will go back to Star City Wednesday night and meet some new arrivals.  We plan to come back to Moscow on Thursday to take a tour of the Bolshoi.

Just 3 weeks from launch, exams are done, we are certified/bonafide !!!

It was a busy week last week with finals Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a board certification, press conference, visit to Red Square and a meeting with the head of the Russian Space Agency.  “Rest week” starts today so now we get to have a little time off before going to Baikanor on the 2nd of July.  Quarantine will start then, so I am lucky to be able to spend this week with my mom.  We have already started “resting”, so now mom knows what the banya is, what salmon shashlik tastes like and she is pretty well versed in the Moscow Metro…in other words, we are having fun!


1)  So, I was asked when is launch exactly!  Sorry, it has been sort of the focus of my life for the last couple years so I forget everyone doesn’t know all these details. Launch is 15 July 2012 at around 0835 am Kazakhstan time.  Kazakhstan time is 10 hours earlier than Eastern Standard time. So, launch is 14 July 2012 at around 1035 pm Eastern Standard time.

2)  Some folks have also asked if the launch date/time is pretty realistic.  The answer is YES.  99% of the time the Soyuz has launched on time.  The Soyuz and the Soyuz rocket do not have the same weather constraints that the shuttle had.  Remember, this vehicle is a capsule that lands under a parachute.  It does not need a runway or weather to see to land at runways around the world like the shuttle did.

So, it is a pretty safe bet that the Soyuz rocket will launch on time.  Knowing that, we have arranged two launch “parties” for folks to go.  One will be in Massachusetts and one will be in Ohio.  If you are in the area, please come and watch.  Astronauts Mike Foreman and Dan Burbank, two of my good friends from Johnson Space Center, will do the narrating, explaining what is going on in Kazakhstan on launch day and during the launch.  A huge thanks to the folks in the CC line who supported this idea of launch parties in the US and made it happen!!!!  Thank you!!!!

The details (when, where) and RSVP numbers are in the attached flyers.  If you know folks who aren’t on the email list and who might be interested in going, please share the details.  The more the merrier!!!

Thanks for your support, s

Massachusetts Launch Party

Ohio Launch Party

Mom’s visit to Russia Day 4

By Bonnie Pandya

We arrived in Moscow by bus.  The astronauts all went to the Russian Space Agency for a meeting with Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the space agency. This is another Russian tradition where they go to thank him for letting them train in Russia after they completed all their training and tests.  Each astronaut and cosmonaut has something to say to him either in Russian or English.  One of the astronauts, speaking Russian made a dreadful mistake.  Instead of thanking him for his training he thanked him for his girlfriend.  Suni decided she was going to speak in English so as not to make a blunder.  As it was he is an old Russian and asked her how she would be cleaning and cooking in the ISS.  Needless to say she along with everyone else was dismayed by his questions and this was one of the subjects they talked about later in Shep’s Bar. She was also given a picture of Putin.

The rest of us stayed on the bus because we could not go into Popovkin’s office.  It was getting hot so we were asked if we wanted to go into the NASA office nearby and wait until the interview and press conference were over.  We all walked over to the NASA office and were met by Joel who is the head of everything in Russia, launch & landing in Kazakhstan.  He is very nice and has a Russian wife named Inga.  They were finishing up their tour of duty there in Russia and going back to the U.S. after spending several years in Russia.  We had tea, cookies and candy while we waited.

Then we were driven to Red Square where the astronauts were given red roses to put on Yuri Gagarin and other famous cosmonaut’s graves.

Laying roses on Cosmonauts’ graves.

Each one did it separately and said a little prayer.  The press was there taking pictures of everyone as we walked around the Kremlin.

Suni and I at the Kremlin.

Then we all walked to the cannon and various statues with the press following along and taking pictures and doing interviews.  Next we went into the park and more pictures and interviews were done by Gagarin’s tree.  The park was beautiful with many flower garden displays, benches, and walkways.  Tourists were standing by to get into the Kremlin to view all of the above but it was blocked off until the astronauts and group departed.

The drive into Moscow took us about three hrs. and after all the various ceremonies, press conferences, photographs, we left Moscow around 6 p.m, and did not get back to Star City until around 9 o’clock.  Everyone was very hungry since we did not eat anything all day.  When we got back to the cottages we all went into cottage three and had dinner.  Everyone that was there including the astronauts in training, had made us dinner so it was waiting for us.   I was very impressed with how nice everyone gets along and how helpful and considerate every one is to each other.

This was a very busy day.  This is a tradition that has been carried out in Russia since the start of the Russian Space Agency.  I felt very privileged to be a part of this tradition along with my daughter Suni.  Everyone was exhausted so we all dispersed and went to our own cottages.  The astronauts had studying to do, Suni had packing to do and I used her computer to write our adventures of the day.

Mom’s visit to Russia Day 3

By Bonnie Pandya

Yesterday was another fun day.  After Suni finished her Russian class we took a walk to the Banya where we signed up for tomorrow night.  The Banya is a steam room, very hot, about 120 degrees. You can only stay in there about 5 min. at the most.    Then you go out of the steam room and jump in the 45 degree pool.  It is like a locker room with showers,  and the pool with the stem room at the end of the hall.  We then walked around the campus and saw the new church that was built a couple years ago.  Typically Russian with the gold leaf round tops.  It was interesting because it was built like a log cabin.  This is how they build a church in the country side.  It is very pretty, sitting in the middle of nowhere.

Built like a log cabin.

Vadim, the driver took a group of us to the local market just outside the military base where we are staying.  Two of the Canadian Astronauts, Chris and Tom went along with Tom’s daughter, Gail.  The men went to buy roasted chicken wrapped in a thin bread and Suni and I went to buy fruit and vegetables for dinner tonight.

At the market.

It was very interesting how everyone decides what they want to eat and then they all go shopping and share the expense.  There were quite a few things at the market including pots and pans, dried fruits, spices, cheese, shackleek grills, dishes, cups, plates and so many other items.  After an hour of shopping around we met up the Vadim and went back to the cottages.

Suni went for a jog and I started cooking the Slovenian sausages I brought with me from Azman Meats.  They smelled delicious.  I also brought some somosas which we baked in the oven.  Suni warmed up her delicious chicken soup with chick peas  and spinach, and then she made a fantastic salad with red, green and yellow peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese dill and balsamic vinaigrette.  We brought the food over to cottage #4 where everyone congregated.  The roasted chicken was there on the table, another salad, macaroni and cheese, tunafish salad, bread and couple other dishes and our sausages and salad and chicken soup.  Needless to say everyone was impress and ate all the sausages and Suni’s salad.  Someone made crème brulet and a chocolate cake and a ice cream cake.  We took what we wanted from the table and went outside to eat.  It was fun just sitting around, eating and talking.  Chris brought out his guitar so we had nice music to listen to.  Swanie was there, he was one of the crew on Atlantis that brought Suni home from her last mission.  It was cool to see how they all get together and have fun.  Some of them are leaving tomorrow to go back to Houston.  The back-up crew’s family will be coming in this weekend so we will have more people here.  Everyone loved the Azman sausages and I assured them I had more for the next party.

Slovenian sausages.

After about three hours of listening to music, drinking beer, eating and reminiscing about old times, everyone pitched in to clean up and then went to our own cottages to go to sleep.  Even though Suni, Aki and Yuri were finished with their classes, the rest of the astronauts have 2 ½ more years to prepare for their flights.

I woke up about 4 a.m. and notices the sun was rising.  Weird! Today is going to be another sunny day with temperatures around 70.  Suni went for a jog and then got ready in her dark blue uniform.  She and Mark, the Army guy, were the only ones with uniforms on and the rest of the astronauts were in suits.  They all went to a press conference.  I will be picked up in the van at 11 when we will all go to Moscow.  However, Chris Guiletti called me to ask if I would like to come for the signing of the official paperwork at the desk of the first Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.  So I was picked up and taken with Ann, Tom’s wife and her daughter Gail to the museum building where we waited for the astronauts to arrive.  We were ushered into the area where Gagarin had his office for the official signing of the book.


This is one of the official ceremonies that the Russians have.  The press was there taking pictures.  Ann, Gail and I went into Gagarin’s office and watched as the prime crew signed and then the back-up crew signed.  We took a tour of the cosmonaut museum, in the same building.

From there we all got into a bus and went to Moscow.  While we were on the bus, I ask Aki about the Chinese space station.  He said they have been building it for about 8 yrs. And that it is very small.  No one hears much about it until about a week before they launch.  I asked him if it was on the same latitude as the ISS and he was not sure.  The Chinese astronauts are up there now.  Aki said they already sent up supplies and practiced docking and everything worked so then they sent up the astronauts.  They will only be there for a couple of days before returning to earth.  I hope the two space stations do not collide but Aki said the have means to track where they are so it wouldn’t be a problem.  So far we have not heard any more about the Chinese, if they returned to earth or are still up there.