Байконур

A flash of light, followed by growling and rumbling and shaking of the ground. Screaming and shouting people, blinding light.

It is the moment we all have been waiting for with anticipation for the last months when the plan to see a Soyuz launch live and in person on site in Baikonur began to take shape. The adventure which should become #AlexTweetup.

Standing a mere 1.2 km away from the launchpad where just now Alexander Gerst, Reid Wiseman and Commander Maxim Suraev have just departed Earth en route to the International Space Station brought a mix of emotions to the surface and the means of expressing these emotions from pretty much everyone on the stands of Baikonur Cosmodrome was screaming from the top of our lungs…

But let me rewind to the start of this adventure…

Moscow and Korolev

We have just returned from our trip to Spacefest VI (blogpost to come in the near future) just to recharge the devices, download all pictures” and continue to Moscow where we met the crew of #AlexTweetup.
Do you knowTweeps in Moscow

While Moscow is a beautiful city to visit in itself, this is a whole different story. Our adventure really took off when we went on a trip into the suburbs to visit the city of Korelev. It is the crib of Russian Space exploration if you will.

The trip there was supposed to be by train, but Yaroslav station apparently has more than one building and our inability to read cyrilic letters and the fact that the track numbering seems to be unique for each building let us miss the rest of the group and the train departed without us.

The next train was to go in over two hours and so we decided to take it the Russian way and improvise. Our CERN tweetup friend Rob talked to the next cab driver who agreed to drive us to  Korolev for 3000 rubles (around 60€).

But “our” cabdriver had a better idea and called one of his friends from the cab behind him and directed us to him instead. Well no problem for us, but the 2nd guy didn’t speak any english and we really didn’t know where to go in Korolev.

RaketaNot short of ideas, we showed him the famous landmark, an R-2 rocket as an initial reference point. But we weren’t be the social media aficionados if we didn’t make use of the full range of tools and tracked our friends from check-in to check-in to a little museum not far from the R-2 where we only missed minutes of the tour! 🙂

The museum, apropriately called Korolev Museum had some exquisite pieces of Space Hardware and lots of WWII machinery, which I skipped in favor or spending more time with the space stuff (you can check out some of the stuff in the pictures on my flickr). The thing that made all of us Space Geeks skip a heartbeat was to be found in the backyard of the museum. two flown Soyuz capsules, partially covered in shrink wrap lay there exposed to the elements! But on the positive side, we were able to touch and hug these space artefacts. The museum staff was most likely puzzled why we all whirled around this backyard junk 😀

Soyuz

The day then found a wonderful end with an invitation from Anton Syromyatnikov, son of the designer of the Apollo-Soyuz docking adaptor Vladimir Syromyatnikov to a little Plov BBQ at his Datcha in a small hidden part of the city where lots of space engineers and cosmonauts live. We even had the chance to meet and greet some of them.

AntonAnatoly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we also ventured on the tracks of Sergei Korolev with a visit to the Cosmonaut Memorial Museum and Korolev’s house (again, pictures are in my flickr)

 

 

Baikonur

Moscow was fabulous, but not to forget, we were on a mission! A mission to see Expedition 40 lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome and that’s in Kazakhstan as you know 🙂

The only airline to go directly besides the Roscosmos charter is an airline called Tulpar Air (I let you do the google research 🙂 ). Well, long story short, we lifted of with a slight and anticipated delay towards our next stop on a plane I dubbed #SpaceTupolev, where only later we learned it was THE plane that already had a nickname – Lucky Tupolev.

Kraini AirportAfter getting over the anxiety of flying a plane probably older than I am and doubtful last revisions, I had the smoothest picter perfect touchdown of all my traveller life at Kraini Airport, just outside of the city of Baikonur. Immigration was a breeze and we were en route to our hotel in the city center.

Baikonur is like a time capsule from the Soviet Era. Lots of statues from the master minds of early rocket science. But the most remarkable monument other than the signature fishermen monument where the Cosmonauts reguarly take a picture (we’ll come to it towards the end of the trip) is the full size Soyuz rocket in the extension of Baikonurs Arbat Street. Created with Nokia Smart CamSoyuz Baikonur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first full day kicked off with a trip to see THE ROCKET! On the LAUNCHPAD! 🙂

It was the blessing of TMA-13M where Father Sergey first sprinkled the Soyuz rocket with holy water and then continued to the VIP attendees and finally the press – a very welcomed cooling off in 38C degree weather 🙂

But I am going too fast. The moment when we closed in, to the pad, you could hear the clicking of camera shutters all over the bus and excited chatter from our group where for most of us a long standing dream was about to come true.

Having seen the Soyuz monument the other day I was still stunned, that the rocket looked small and almost too delicate to bear the violent acceleration forces. Maybe it was because the only “other rocket” I had seen in real life besides the Shuttle stack and far away Atlas’s and Delta’s was an Arian 5 in the Le Bourget museum in Paris. And the Ariane truly is a massive rocket.

SoyuzSo, here we stood, barely 10 meters away from the vehicle that will bring the next crew to the International Space Station in a little over a day. Only after the visit it appeared to me that the fuel wagons in front of us were there for a reason. They were pumping Kerosine into the rocket.

Ah well, we had a priest with us, what could possibly have gone wrong 😉

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The launchpad by the way is the very same where Yuri Gagarin launched on his historic first ever human spaceflight!

 

 

yuriWaaaay too early we had to leave the wonderful spacecraft, but on our way back to Baikonur and to our next waypoint – the press conference – we had a quick stop at the Energiya museum to sit in the pilot seat of the Soviet Space Shuttle, the Buran!

Buran

The press conference was heavily guarded and all of us had to go through bag searches and wait at a checkpoint with a machine gun armed guard. Finally we were allowed inside the quarantined hotel into the room I’ve seen countless times on TV, where in a short moment the Astronauts and Cosmonauts would appear behind glass. The interest in the mission was huge and so the little room filled quickly with everyone trying to get a good spot for taking pictures.

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You wouldn’t believe how relaxed they looked. I would have expected to see them more nervous. I mean they were supposed to be strapped on a big explosive stick in little more then 24 hours!

Alex making pano

But no, the first thing Alexander Gerst did when they arrived, was taking a panorama and post it to social media (I assume). I caught him in the act 🙂 Maxim on the other hand, did his crew selfies and all of them waved at us once they recognized the crazy bunch. It was a moment to remember for sure, but it shouldn’t be the last of the wow-moments we had during this trip.

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Of course, the crew was asked about the political situation at the moment which they had the best statement at the end saying that they fly to space as friends and they don’t care about the others nationality. We had the very same feeling by the way, coming together as friends from various nations and crossing borders, interacting with more nationalities. Not once did we see or feel any of the muscle play of the politicians of this planet. Maxim, Alex and Reid’s hug is an expression of how we all feel…
(my picture of the hug turned out to be crap, so I give you the cheering crew instead 🙂 )

And then, finally it was here: LAUNCHDAY!

Baikonur City

We had some time to kill and went for a walk in Baikonur city to see the variety of monuments and do some souvenir shopping at the market.
I really don’t know how to describe Baikonur, except for that timecapsule part which seems to be evident everywhere you go. Other than that, it seems to be deserted at times with wide parks beautifully built, but unmaintained for years (or so it seemed).

But Baikonur is a Space city foremost and this becomes evident when checking out the museums and tiny places one can visit. Lots of actual hardware to look at and to immerse oneself into the history of early spaceflight.

hi there

In the early afternoon, we were brought once again to the Cosmonaut hotel for the official walkout of the crew. It’s the unsuited walkout where they leave the city and go to the Cosmodrome to put on their gear. When we arrived and walked towards the entrance, we spotted the prime and the backup crew taking pictures with what appeared to be members of the staff. But of course we made ourselves heard and were greeted from way back 🙂

goodbye

For the actual walk-out, I was standing right behind the family and the friends of the astronauts and while they were blocking my view, it was special to see and share the emotions. Especially when Reid said goodbye to his daughters through the bus window. I can only imagine how hard it must be to be away from your kids for 6 month.

We should see the cosmonauts one final time this night and this time I made sure I was in the right spot.
Russian Spaceflight is filled with traditions and one of those is the suited walk down to members of the state commission in front of what is the VAB of Russia, the Vertical integration building or just Building 254.

A surreal moment that this is the last time we or the families will see them other than from video screens.

suited
farewell

We packed our stuff and went back to the bus to go to the grand finale.
The three hour wait at the stands went by like a wink of an eye. Part of it probably because the backup crew joint us for a moment and we all received a welcoming hug from Samantha Cristoforetti, which soon was to be prime crew herself!

There is no countdown in Russian rocketry and so we saw a flash of light and…
ahhh well, you know the rest by now 🙂

My cameras were set to auto and I was enjoying the view. Because this moments are to be treasured with your own eyes, not through the flicker of lcd displays.
Here are a few for you to enjoy:

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trail
liftoff
far far away
gone

Hyped beyond belief, we followed another tradition and drank a wee dram of vodka to toast the successful launch.
Tired and excited the trip back to the city was a mix of emotional chatter and silence of mindful-reflection.

docking

After a very short night (which some of the group skipped completely), docking of the Soyuz was our next waypoint. Roscosmos brought us to a small press room and beamed the video to the back of the wall. Another of those “unbelievable” moments when we realized it was the very same Spacecraft docking to the International Space Station just 6 hours after we saw them blast off from a site only kilometers away from where we are watching the docking.

In the evening we had a big party for Expedition 40 and #AlexTweetup, Kazakh style.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

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…well, there was one final highlight, before we returned to Moscow with our delayed Lucky Tupolev (funny thing, we knew a day in advance that we would take off 3 hours later).
On the morning of the 30th, we rented a hord of cabs and drove to the Chelomei Space School. I already mentioned, that Baikonur is full of space history and here inside the school, they put those artefacts to work, teaching the children all there is to know about space engineering – hands on. I just wished we had such thing back home…

Orlan
Inside
all nominal

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I like this picture to the right very much, as it shows how much we were allowed to play with the stuff in the school and also got to try only the newest hardware one can find. This phone will outlast humanity for centuries. Apple, Samsung, anyone?
And besides, Rob does make a good Commander, does he? 😀

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Lucky Tupolev has arrived in Domodedovo Airport in Moscow and this truely completes our trip to Baikonur and to the epic adventure seeing a liftoff of a Soyuz rocket that is!

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We spend another night in Moscow and wandered the Red Square at night. It is a beautiful city full of life around the clock.
I wonder how it will be in winter…

We had great surprise when boarding the flight back to Frankfurt, when our friend Goktug was with us and even had a seat in the row behind us.

Birthday

By the way, did I mention that the launch coincided with my birthday? What a candle! And thanks to all for the well wishes, the posts and the more than nice gifts!

If you want to see the pictures of this blog full size and many more of the trip, head over to my flickr and also see the flickr group with the pictures of my fellow AlexTweetup travellers.

Cheers,

Eico

 

#ASE26

Its been too long without a post, but there is a reason to it.
When returning from Spacefest V, I thought that might have been my Spacefix for the Summer.

Nah, no break from space awesomness…

Shortly after our return a discussion among Spacetweeps started which soon we found could not pass without our coverage.

ASE26 or “The XXVI Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers” was about to happen during the first week of July in the Metropolitan area of Cologne and 89 Astronauts, Cosmonauts and even Thaiconauts have announced their appearance!

So what is the Association of Space Explorers?
If interested, go to their website: http://www.spaceexplorers.org, but in short: It’s the association of all spaceflyers and their goal is discuss and inspire everything and everyone around Space and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
In that we have a very common goal.
How do I become a Member?
Easy, if you have completed a full orbit around earth, you are qualified to join.

Don’t make the cut? Well, me neither. So we had to come up with a different idea: Press-Coverage.

Being “embedded Spacetweeps” covering Twitter / Facebook and other Socialmedia for other events already, it wasn’t too hard to talk the responsible persons into it (most of them at least).

The program promised amazing stuff and so I had to free up my working schedule and get things done after hours and on weekends.

But it was so worth it. Look for yourself:

Tweeps
(Missing on pic: Alex, Kate & Daniel)

Monday:
Opening of the Congress at the University Cologne.
Surreal to stand beside the red carped and watch Cosmonaut icons like Aleksey Leonov (First man to leave a spacecraft), Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Akihiko Hoshide (I saw him launch on STS-124), Kevin Ford (second-last ISS Commander) and Scott Kelly (Will be on ISS for one year in 2014/2015) + many many more pass by.

Astrogroup
After a group photo,

I met Christer Fuglesang and Paolo Nespoli who both were nice enough to take part in the very first SpaceUp Europe of which I was lucky enough to be a co-organizer and co-host (different story).

Its amazing when you get recognized and greeted among a crowd.

After various welcoming speeches, Domitru-Dorin Prunariu, the head of the association gave the cristal helmet award to Prof. Riesenhuber, former German Minister for Research and Technology – and may I add – a talented and inspirational speaker.
Both, Prunariu and Riesenhuber where the highlight of the day! Hopefully those speeches turn up on YouTube and if it does, I will add it here.

Right after the opening, we went straight to the Press-Conference, where Reinhold Ewald confirmed a rumor that we all discussed for some time now.
Save the date: September 22nd will be a DLR/ESA Spacetweetup at the German Aerospace Day in Cologne!
(The site still shows the last event, but will certainly be updated shortly).

The afternoon was passing quickly with interesting public presentations from Space Law to utilizations of ISS of which Airbourne Astronomy was my highlight, as Prof. Juergen Stutzki talked about SOFIA a joint venture between DLR and NASA.

A thing that was very evident at the panel discussion, was that no-one wants to de-orbit ISS in 2020.
Kevin Ford, who just returned from the orbital outpost in March, said “She is in good shape”.
I hope the mission planners and accountants see the value they have in the flying observatory and consider using it much longer!

With this, the Astronauts / Cosmonauts and Thaiconauts – or as we call them now in short “Snauts” – were loaded in their busses and had dinner among themselves.

Time for the Spacetweeps to try and grasp the day by a cool “Kölsch”.

My day closed then with a retweet from Space. Stellar!
Luca RT

Tuesday:
Well, Tuesday was the only day, I couldn’t shift my appointments as I was hosting a long planned business meeting.
But I knew the other tweeps were covering the day and will surely let me know all the amazing stuff I missed – which happened to be a lot of interaction with the Astros.

Wednesday:
Wednesday was community day for the ASE Members and so they swarmed out to 48 different Schools and Universities and Organizations.
Since I was home on Tuesday and the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) is only a few minutes away from home,

ESOC

Main Control Room

Alex and I choose this as the event to be for today.
Four members were present at that location:
Domitru-Dorin Prunariu, Romanian Cosmonaut and head of the Association.
Viktor Savinykh, Russian Cosmonaut and
Gerhard Thiele, German Astronaut.
Mario Runco, US Astronaut

Prunariu talked about the outreach activities and the Scholarship his association gives to students around the world in co-operation with various universities. Also some of the history of the association and how hard it has been at the beginning to unite all space-flyers. Obviously the governments of the Sowiet Union and America weren’t to keen on seeing the Astronauts exchange their views and experiences – but luckily this is a thing of the past.

Savinykh, who was translated by Prunariu, talked about his experience with a “dead” Salyut-7 station and his efforts to get it back under control. I had no idea…
He described catching Salyut with parking into a garage, where someone constantly moves the garage around.

And for the best talk of the day, Mario Runco spiced his presentations with a lot of Star Trek references.
If you ever meet him, ask him about the time difference Enterprise-A and Enterprise-D will have when travelling to Alpha Centauri. Funny.

Thursday:
United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) in Bonn were hosting todays session of ASE26.
Since we know two fabulous persons there, Chahira and Peter invited us to come here early and gave us a tour of UN-SPIDER. Let me say, the office is remarkable – what a view and what an display of satellites.

Bundestag pano
Shortly after we had gotten our press-passes for the day, we sat down in the old plenary room of the Bundestag.

This day was probably the most interesting one, as it was kind of an internal discussion among the Astronauts.
The official theme was sustainability and environment protection.
But one of the main discussions was around the need to get experiments to ISS quicker and without less “red-tape” if you will. Maybe there is something brewing, as the association made a call to their members to use their influence in this topic and further reflection will be done by its board.

Besides that, we got a presentation about the need of international co-operation and if you happen to know me, this is a topic I am really passionate about. Nothing will be possible in the future, if we do not manage to pull our stuff together.

Friday:
CentrifugeToday was the opening of :envihab. A new medical science center for studies of Astronauts on Space flight as well as basic research in the understanding of the human body.
A state of the art building at the DLR site in Köln-Porz, :envihab hostes the newest in shortarm centrifuge technology, where doctors can directly examine the hart of a patient while he is subject to up to 11G! But not only this, but a new laboratory to conduct sleep research is hosted here. The not yet installed light ceiling will be able to produce any light temperature, the researchers want to see and research its impact on the “Pillownauts”.

By the way, if you want to read from a real Pillownaut, I suggest the blog of my good friend Heather.

Have you ever spend a thought about how noisy it might be up on ISS?
No? Me neither. But thinking about it, this is a flying laboratory stuffed with experiments, coolers and other technical equipment. So if the ventilator of your PC during your 8h at work drive you mad, consider the magnitude up on ISS at a 24/7 exposure! This also is a research field of :envihab’s sleep lab.

During the ceremonial opening, we were able to vitness a very rare occasion: All 10 living German Astronauts who have been or in the case of Alexander Gerst will be soon into Space were on stage for the very first time since 1990 (also without Alexander Gerst back then).German Astros
After that I finally got to talk to him – those of you that were reading my last entry know that I missed him in Houston just a couple of weeks ago.

The icing on the cake this week was when Samantha Cristoforetti took some time out of her very busy schedule at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) to casually drink a coffee with us and chatting about the week, being an Astronaut and her upcoming launch. Don’t tell her, but she has to be my favourite Astronaut ever 🙂samantha

Very happy from the stuff that happend during this week, but exhausted, the saddest part of all Spacetweetups had come. We all had to part and say goodbye. But in our minds, it is already close to September and most of us will certainly see each other again for German Aerospace Day (TdLR) or maybe even Spacetweetup II.

#SpaceUnites! (Sorry Jo for overusing this, but you made the most valid point).

Level 9

…this is as high as you can get inside Johnson Space Center, being a ‘normal’ visitor. And definitely a tour every Spacetweep needs to take when in Houston.

Why? Well, wait for it and you know! 😉

First of all, it is important to know, that you need to book the tour at least one day in advance – probably because you are entering a goverment facility and they want to know who you are (well in my case they should have already plenty of data 😉 )
Here is the website to visit. The tourprice does include the entry to Houston Space Center (2 days), so don’t make the mistake I did and buy an entry ticket. One thing you might want to consider though is upgrading to a membership for one year, as this not only gives you free parking, but 10% in the gift shop.

OK, enough advertising.
The tour kicks off with a visit to the Rocket Park (route can be in a different order).
Highlight there is the Saturn V part of which were slated to lift-off on Apollo 18. Only three of remaining original harware are left.
One in Huntsville, AL, one at Kennedy Space Center and one here.
Being the Spacetraveller that I am, I have seen Saturn V at KSC numerous times, but this one is at eye level – well, parts of it 🙂

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Outside is the test vehicle for the Launch Abort System which luckily had never been used during a launch.

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Our next stop was the Sonny Carter Training Facility, better known as the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) or the pool. Not many buildings are named after an individual, but this one is and it is mostly because of Sonny Carter’s achievents and his way too early loss.

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Unfortunately for me, it was “Safety Day” in the NBL and no Astros were diving. On the other hand, the water was so calm, one could perfectly see parts of ISS submerged for training.

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Personally, I hoped to bump into Alexander Gerst, the next German Astronaut launching to ISS in 2014 (follow this link if you want to see him launching live from Baikonour).
I was wearing my bright blue outfit from the first #Spacetweetup and while Alexander was busy in the robotics lab, my visit didn’t get unnoticed.

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After two amazing stops, it was time to grab a bite in one of the cafeterias on campus. We were told, that Astronauts eat here too.

And sure enough, Mike Massimino showed up and gave me a ‘Hi’!
I was too surprised to ask him for a foto and after he had his Sandwich, I found it unfitting to disturb him in his well deserved lunchbreak.
But I mean @Astro_Mike! The very reason why I am on Twitter!

It couldn’t get any better, or can it?

Lunch itself was shared with a nice couple from New Jersey, who happened to be in Houston for a wedding of a relative. Once more, #SpaceUnites!

By the way: Keep your Credit Card tight, as there is another Shop with different Space stuff in the cafeteria.

Next stop was building 9, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility – what a name. Basically this is the classroom for the Astronauts, where they get to know every detail of the Hardware they will be using or that serves as their home during a mission.

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I was happy to see, that the Shuttle Mockup was still inside. My wife who happen to take the tour a week later (no kids under 14 allowed) even had the opportunity to climb abord another mockup and sit in the PLT seat!

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Picture by Alex’ guide

Barely enough time to soak into the athmosphere, we continued to Building 7, where they develop space suits and other things – very impressive. We even got to see the pressure chamber which is usually off limits to visitors as they don’t want anyone to sneak a look of prototypes – guess nothing important was tested that day.

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Much different the next building and final stop of the tour:
Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center!

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This is THE room, I have seen countless times on television during briefings, launches and ISS communication and now I was able to walk trough this doors! Crazy!

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Last room to visit was the Historic Mission Control. The room has been restored to a condition almost as it was during the Apollo days.
David L. Cisco a Technician from the very program gave us some insights into what happened here back in the days.

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Needless to say I could have spend far more time in this building. After seeing Launch Control at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this was probably highest on my wishlist.

With this, a truly remarkable tour ended and left this Spacetweep more then just happy.

Whenever you are taking the tour, please let me know and send some pictures – I’d be more than happy to add them to my blog linking to you.

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