Baïkonour "Today I left Moscow for Houston. Peggy, Oleg and I just spent two weeks in Baikonur to ensure our role as replacement crew for the ones who just flew to the ISS. We had to be ready to replace them in case of problems.
Being a replacement crew - and for me, this was the second time! – the stay in Baikonur is halfway between the holiday and the golden cage. On the one hand, it's pretty relax: the weather is very nice in Kazakhstan in the summer, and even if we have to follow the same final preparation that the main crew, check our seats like them, etc., the challenge is not the same. We know that we are not lifting off.
Actually, Anatoli, Takuya and Kathleen were much busier than us. They had lots of things to finalize, like providing a list of 128 authorized mail addresses, finalizing their MP3 music playlist, checking the luggae they could carry in the Soyuz ... all this did not concern us.
The downside of it is that throughout all this time we were also in quarantine! To prevent contamination and get sick before launch, the replacement crew and of course the main crew must reduce their interaction with others. The quarantine ended for us only when the main crew entered the rocket.
A new Soyouz to test
This 7th of July launch was special because it was the first of a new version of the Soyuz. The Russians want to proceed to several tests of the vehicle on orbit. Anatoli, Takuya and Kathleen’s flight therefor lasted two days instead of six hours, as it is the case since 2012. It will be the same for the September 2016 flight. In November, our flight should last only six hours. Unless the Russian engineers decide new tests.
Peggy, who has already flown on the Soyuz at the time the trip took two days, does not really want to relive the experience. It seems that two days in the Soyuz, it's a nuisance to die! Between the launch phase and the approach to the ISS, there is not much to do. We are launched on a ballistic mode, like cannonball.
And we can not even contemplate the Earth through the window! As the Soyuz slowly rotates on itself, it is the best way to get sick. In addition, the crew is badly sleeping since the phases of sleep and waking time (going two "nights" in the Soyuz) are not based on our physiology, but on Russian territory overflights. Anyway, in orbit, changing from day to night (and vice versa) takes about 45 minutes ...
A funny thing few people know: when the travel to the ISS lasts two days, the astronauts have time to take off the suit and gloves they wear at takeoff, to dry them during the flight. They have to put them back before docking with the station though.
See you in August! "
By David Fossé (Ciel et Espace).