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Travelling from Moscow to Baikonur is an adventure itself. Boarding times seem to be a suggestion. Also instead of a Yak plane, we flew with a Tupolev, which looked from the inside as it was built during the Soviet area. So entering the plane was accompanied with special feelings ;-)
After 3 hours flight we landed in Baikonur in Kazakhstan. As expected the temperatures were really hot, around 37°C. Compared to Remco‘s first experience in December 2011 there was a temperature difference of 65° C. The area around Baikonur is a very flat & dry steppe, so temperatures vary between -30°C and +40°C.
As we arrived too late to see the Soyuz rollout, which started same day at 07:00 in the morning, we first ensured that we had water to drink and SIM cards to tweet ;-)
While wandering around in the city, visiting space monuments, I recognized that Baikonur has a very young population. Lots of kids and teenagers were outside enjoying the evening. We also met Romain Charles, Mars500 participant and ESA crew support for the European astronauts, at the famous Sputnik hotel, which is just next to the hotel the astronauts are staying. Unfortunately we didn‘t get any drinks in the bar there, as they only serve hotel guest.
On the next day, we had a visit to the Soyuz rocket scheduled to attend the traditional blessing ceremony. As the Cosmodrome is 50km from the city of Baikonur, we had to go there by bus, of course without air conditioning. Landscape doesn‘t change much, you ride through flat, dry steppe, which I think isn‘t even suitable as analog landscape as it has too much plants. And suddenly the launch complex appeared. As we got closer we saw the Soyuz standing there. Amazing, we really go see the Soyuz rocket, one day before launch! I really got excited. We followed the railway tracks which end at the rocket itself and then we we‘re allowed to walk to the rocket together with other journalist, mostly Russian.
And finally I was standing there, on Launchpad 1, the Launchpad were the first satellite in space Sputnik-1, the first human in space Yuri Gagarin and many, many more launched into space. I don‘t have any words how it feels being only 15 m away from the Soyuz and realizing this is holy ground, here space history took place and will take place in future. I wonder what feelings the three astronauts have, who will be sitting in this rocket in about 24 hours.
Meanwhile the blessing ceremony took place and the priest blessed not only the rocket and the invited guest, but also all of the press, including us the #AlexTweetup group. Interesting to see that Russian press gathered together to shoot photos from the blessing. This seems to be important for them.
Near the Launchpad there is also a huge museum with lots of memorabilia, pictures, and space probes like a Buran but also old mission computer from the launch control. Unfortunately we didn‘t get much time to explore the museum as there was a tight schedule made from Roscosmos for us.
After a nice afternoon break – time for me to write on this blog post – we were picked up again by our bus to go to the press conference inside the cosmonaut hotel. Security was very high, we were scanned and were only allowed to enter the room in groups of 10 people. The press conference gathered quite an interest at least around 10 camera teams and around 15-20 photographers. I managed to squeeze into a place in the front. Of course the whole press conference is held in Russian without any translation. When the crew (Alexander Gerst, Maxim Surajev, Reid Wiseman) and the backup crew (Samantha Cristoforetti, Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts) entered the room, which was separated by a glass wall, big applause came up. Question came from various journalists in different languages. For me it was an interesting experience to follow a press conference were most of the question were in Russian, which were not translated. Both crews looked very relaxed, they greeted the #AlexTweetup crowed and finished the press conference with a #selfie. I did expect question to the international tension between Russia and the US, and Alexander Gerst pointed out that they do have a great friendship in the team and you can‘t see borders from space. Everybody benefits from space. With a group huge they showed us what they think of the politics at the moment.
So for the Expedition 40 crew starts now their last night on Earth. Tomorrow evening they launch to space. I still can‘t realize that I‘m witnessing somebody else‘s adventure.
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