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Wednesday 28th May 2014. It‘s launch day. Our press activities are scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m early evening. Launch time is planned for 01:57 a.m. in the morning. Therefore we had pretty much the day off to do whatever we want. In the morning I joined a group who walked in Southern direction to explore different space monuments. Baikonur is full of space monuments & mockups. In the Soldier‘s park two monuments mark the graves of the ones who died during the Nedelin disaster in 1960 and R-9 accident in 1963.
We went also to the local market to hunt for some space souvenirs. You‘ll find a lot of interesting motifs e.g. camels with rockets, camels with astronauts etc. ;-)
In the afternoon we went to the city museum of Baikonur to learn more about the history of the city. They had a nice model of how the Cosmodrome looked like in 1955, there was only one launchpad and simple houses next to the launchpad. Of course some original space hardware like rocket engines or the original jumpsuit of Sergei Krikalev. At the end of the visit we dressed up in traditional kazak clothes in the same room where also the kazak style traditional crew pictures are taken, which of course are on display in the museum.
Just before 7 p.m the bus picked us up at our hotel and we took the short ride to the cosmonaut hotel. Like yesterday at the press conference, there was a lot of media attention so you had to be fast to pick a spot. Families and VIP‘s were there too, with separate places. After waiting for ca. 45 min the crew and the back-up crew came out with big applause, it got a little bit crazy everybody tried to get a got shot with his camera and shout the crew the best wishes for the launch. The astronauts went by so fast, I didn‘t really get a good look at them. But I saw their bright smiles and they look really happy, now that their adventure begins. In less than 6 hours they will be in space. How would you feel in such a moment? I can‘t imagine.
For the families it must have been also a very emotional moment. I saw the kids of the astronaut touching the bus window and vice-versa. This is the last time they are so close to their beloved ones and they won‘t see them in person for the next 6 months.
The crew and the backup crew went in 2 different busses to the Cosmodrome. It‘ll take them about one hour and then the donning of the Sokol spacesuits starts. In the meantime we went to astronaut’s alley to see the planted trees of all cosmonauts. Alexander Gerst, Maxim Surajew and Reid Wiseman just planted their trees some days ago. Due to the hot temperatures the freshly planted trees have to struggle to grow. I was wondering if our Austrian astronaut Franz Viehböck planted a tree too, but I didn‘t find it. Next time I meet him I need to ask him about his tree.
At 09:30 p.m. we started our bus ride to the Cosmodrome. It started to drizzle outside and the bus driver drove like hell. As we were approaching the Cosmodrome, the Soyuz leaped into my view. A beautiful, man-made machine standing there on launchpad -1, in the darkness, lit by big spots. I was full of awe.
As I wrote in my first blog post, I’m ready for somebody else’s adventure. And this adventure starts in a few hours. While we were going to the Cosmodrome, the three astronauts donned their Sokol spacesuits, only families and some few press people nearby. Around 11:00 p.m. local time, the last ceremony took place: a fully suited walk-out from building 254 – the Soyuz assembly building. Just before they opened the door some rain drops were falling on the ground. The crowd consisting of journalists, VIPs, family and AlexTweetup tweeps went crazy again and applauded as the crew approached their position for the ceremony. The crew looked relaxed and excited. Alexander Gerst again waved us, as he is aware that 16 space tweeps came to support his first launch into space. There is a small ceremony before they enter the bus. All three astronauts stopped at their designated mark on the pavement and are greeted by Roscosmos and ESA officers. In the audience was also ESA Director General Jean-Jacque Dordain, German astronauts Thomas Reiter, Sigmund Jähn, Ulf Merbold, Belgian astronaut Frank de Winne and DLR director Jan Wörner.
For me this was the first time I saw astronauts suited up. They were wearing the spacesuits with such an ease.
After the walk-out we went to our watching spot ca. 1.2 km away from the Launchpad. The waiting begins. We were setting up our equipment, tried to sent out some tweets, despite the bad connection and just watched the Soyuz rocket standing there in the full late evening illumination. We had a chat with the backup crew (Samantha Cristoforetti, Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts) which just strolled around the area. Samantha hugged all of us. In November she will launch into space and take also 3 of the OeWF World Space Week, Swarovski TiuTerra crystals with her.
The 3 hours passed by like nothing and then the service structures went off. More and more people came to the area, camera teams started to report from the launch site. Excitement level rises and then the umbilical tower goes off. Russian don’t do a countdown so suddenly you hear a deep *rrrooooaaaarrr*, then you see the ignition, next thing is that it gets really bright and the rocket lifts-off. The sound, the light is just incredible it shakes your whole body. I have difficulties to describe the moment, but for me it was just awesomeness, the sound, the light everything. An extraordinary moment!
The rocket rose into the night sky and it was clearly visible for about 6 minutes. After 9 minutes the Soyuz reaches orbit.
I spotted someone else’s dream come dream. The smile on the face of all 3 crew members this last day, said everything. They really were excited to go into space and I think as they do have such a great friendship it must be extraordinary to experience such an adventure with your friends. Alexander Gerst, Maxim Surajev and Reid Wiseman I wish you a great stay on the International Space Station, enjoy your time and we‘re looking forward to lots of science that you‘ll do in the next 6 months.
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