“Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
Gillespie Magee – ‘High Flight’
It’s launch day, and there is a reassuring peace over the steppe in the cool of the morning. Went for a run along the Syr Darya river and watched the sun rise over the barren landscape. My next sunrise will be in Earth orbit, so I took a little extra time this morning to enjoy the breeze and the smell of the sage and the river. I know that the sweet smell of the Earth is something that I am going to really miss. When I returned from my 15-day Space Shuttle mission in November 2007, the most dramatic experience for me was the moment the hatch opened on the runway at Kennedy Space Center, in the middle of the wildlife sanctuary. I had only been away from the planet for 15 days, and realized how much I take for granted…but not this morning. I stood by the river for a while watching the desert awaken, and thought that tomorrow morning maybe I will try to find this place to see what it looks like from space. The photo above is a rare glimpse of the Soyuz rocket from inside the flame trench. Going to get a little toasty at this spot in just a few short hours when we light the fire!
We had our final meeting with the ‘Government Commission’ last evening. Mostly formality, but a chance to uphold tradition and officially sign over the rocket to the crew. A panel of officials interacted with our instructors, evaluators, and the leadership of each sub-system on the vehicle to review the readiness of the crew and the spacecraft. We sat behind glass in an adjoining room to maintain our health-stabilization protocol and listened intently as the past 2 years of our training were analyzed and discussed. Each crewmember was asked to stand and speak. This is the culmination of countless hours of work, time spent away from home, late nights, and the internalization of the art and science of space flight…boiled down into about 15 seconds of the best Russian you can muster up…I just said thanks, and let the Commission know how proud a moment in history this is, that just 20 years ago, this event would have been in the realm of the impossible. It was a celebration of achievement it space, and a charge for us to continue to carry the torch of passion for exploration and discovery. I’ll have to admit that I felt a little ‘weak in the knees’, since it was such a profound experience. As during my back-up assignment last December, I wanted to say something really profound, but I just stuck with the ‘Three Be’s’ : Be Bold – Be Brief – and Be Seated.
Following the Commission, we had a crew press conference, and then watched the old Russian movie “The White Sun of the Desert”, as is tradition for all Soyuz flight crews to watch together, the night before the launch. “The White Sun of the Desert” is quite possibly the most popular and beloved Russian movie of all time. There are many quotable ‘one-liners’ in the movie that have become part of everyday conversational Russian. It is a lot of fun to watch with native Russians, it is part of their culture…and not a bad movie either. The movie really has nothing to do with space, it just happened that about 20 years ago, during the prosperous years of the Russian Mir Space Station and frequent Soyuz launches, the Cosmonaut Hotel (which is still a bit Spartan) was able to acquire its first video cassette tape player/recorder. For this place, it was truly a marvel of technological achievement at the time, and the Cosmonauts here were thrilled with the notion of maybe having ‘movie night’ while in quarantine. As the story goes, everyone went on a search for a movie to watch…they searched high and low, inside the gates, and outside in the village (which was then called ‘Leninsk’). In all of Leninsk, where you could have probably counted the total number of televisions on one hand…there was only one video cassette tape movie to be found. It was “The White Sun of the Desert”…and a new tradition was born.
The feeling in the air here this morning is glorious! We are ready and excited about the coming hours and the moment when we will light up the starry night. We have had a great time these past couple of days laughing together and talking about time being like sand in an hourglass. It is incredible to watch these final hours of preparation, and amazing to see before your eyes the triumph of ideas, vision, and the thirst for knowledge and understanding over worn out ideology and political / cultural differences. A Russian Cosmonaut, and two U.S. Astronauts, launching together as a crew, on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station…I wonder how many people, 50 years ago, when NASA first came into existence, would have believed this would ever be possible. Only the real dreamers, I am sure.
Only about 9 hours now until launch, and I am getting that very same feeling that I had just prior to suit-up for my mission on the Space Shuttle Discovery. It’s not really fear, or even anxiety at this point, just a heightened sense of awareness. Getting in the zone, and feeling comfortable so far. Our ride is standing ready at the launch pad. The rocket is fueled and all of the pad interface checks are complete. All systems are ‘Go’. Thought I would share some photos of the rocket making its way to the pad. This is an incredible sight.
Raising the rocket into position:
“One sweet ride”…standing proudly on the launch pad…in the spectacular sunrise…the same spot where ‘Sputnik’ once stood waiting and Yuri Gagarin’s heart raced at the advent of the space age. Doesn’t Old Glory look beautiful in the rising sun?
Time to Fly!!!
Launch viewing information:
You may view the Soyuz TMA-19 launch on the Web at: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv
For more information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station
Dedicated to my Dad…the one man that never stopped believing in me. Thanks, Dad. I love you, and you will be in my every thought as we light up the night!
“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky displays His handiwork!” Psalm 19:1
Grace and Peace…