Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Launch minus 1 days and counting

Baikonur day 3

The control board was an amazing event. After all the approvals and speeches were given, there was a press conference with the prime and backup crew after the event. Hardest question was to Astronaut Peggy Whitson, it went something like this “ Being an American, how do you feel about flying with a Muslim? Peggy gave the perfect answer: “The one thing about flying in space you look down at the earth and you see one planet and you realize that there is no reason for war”.

Launch minus 2 days and counting

Baikonur day 4

Rollout of Soyuz rocket
Upright Soyuz rocket
Up at 5:30 AM today to see the horizontal rollout of the Soyuz by train to the launch site and then to the raising of the rocket from horizontal to vertical launch position. Then growing cells in the morning and then start filling operations on the hardware preparation this afternoon. It is now 9 PM, we have lab operations until about 2 PM- same thing happens tomorrow before turnover of the experiment to Kaiser Italia for the leak test.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Launch minus 3 days and counting

Baikonur day 3

Up early, ate early and we were in the lab by 7:45AM. Worked until the afternoon. Later in the day I had the opportunity to meet the head of the Malaysian Space Science, Professor Dr. A Rahman A Jamal. We learned that they had 4 space science experiments going up on this mission. Their space science program was envisioned, planned and executed in less than 2 years. After submitting their proposals the scientists were selected and funded in about 4 months. The Malaysian government supports science and knows how to be efficient!

Launch minus 4 days and counting

Baikonur day 2

The days are starting to merge together. There is routine. The ESA group (scientists, engineers and administrators) has breakfast, lunch an dinner together in the same room. Today we examine the cells and feed them, clean up the lab and get organized. Still working out of suitcases. Also, put the autoclaved hardware out on the table in anticipation of launch minus 2 days when we start the filling the hardware. We filled out paperwork, worked on the blog and checked our email ( a hard thing to do in the Steeps of Kazakhstan). Later we went into town and met some of the female Malaysian scientists. Today is Chai-Fei’s birthday so we went to the Baikonur Market and bought saffron, pomegranates, nuts and Kazakhstan cognac. At dinner, we toasted Chai-Fei’s birthday and ate pomegranate seeds for dessert. Various members of the group sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English, German, French, Italian and Chinese. It was a great day.

The Baikonur market

Launch minus 5 days and counting

Trip to Baikonur

Tammy and Chai-Fei were up at 4AM to get packed and go to IBMP and get the monocytes on the next leg of our trip. I am not far behind, I am up at 4:30AM, shower, pack and go down to the lobby and wait for our pick-up at 6:20 AM. We then go to the labs where we pick up the rest of the team. We check in at the Energia airport and board on an ESA chartered KOCMOC Ty-134A airplane. It holds 76 passengers. First class looks a lot like our economy class except the seats have more padding and there is a curtain separating us from them. Everyone is excited about going to the launch site and spirits are high. A team of Malaysian scientists have been added to the science effort about 8 months ago and we look forward to getting to know them better during the next five days. We will be in the air for about 4 hours before landing in Kazakhstan. Many of us are sleeping in our seats in preparation for the work ahead in the labs.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Launch minus 6 days

Moscow day 3  

St. Basil's Cathedral
This is a slower day. Greg Slick and I went to Red Square to look around and take a few photos. Tammy and Chai-Fei went to the lab and prepare the monocytes for travel for tomorrow. They finished in time to visit central Moscow and then come back to the Sovietsky Hotel to rest. Basically the entire team is tired from the travel and constant caring for the monocytes. It has started drizzling outside and we are trying to rest up before the trip to Baikonur and the launch site.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Launch – 7 days and counting

Moscow day 2

 Finally got to sleep around 1AM this morning and we have an 8:30 AM pickup to go visit Star City, where the cosmonauts train for spaceflight. It is a two hour drive from our hotel; we got to the guard gate of Star City and waited for our tour guide Dimitri. The trip was worthwhile, we saw the cosmonaut cultural center, and went to Yuri Gagarin’s office where all cosmonauts visit before going to Baikonur for launch- it is thought to be a lucky place, so we touched his desk for good fortune. We then went down the “walk of heroes” to the training center. There we saw the MIR space station model, the Soyuz capsule and the statue of Gagarin with the stain glass window behind.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Launch – 8 days and counting



After being up for 10 hours, with our supplies and living monocyte cells, we are still waiting at Sheremetyevo, the Moscow airport for our biological samples to clear customs. The time drags on, each call says “it will only be another 30 minutes”. Daylight darkens into sunset and then to night and we are still waiting. Meanwhile the monocytes are getting cold, the frozen fetal calf and other supplies are warming up all approaching ambient temperature together.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Launch – 14 days and counting

Somewhere over the Atlantic

Imagine taking your entire molecular biology lab halfway across the world to put an experiment on the 15S Soyuz flight to the International Space Station (ISS). You must remember every pipette, every drop of media, every coverslip, flask, cell counter everything because there is no Fisher Scientific outlet at the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan Your experiment is executed in orbit above the earth and the cosmonaut operators have been trained by people outside your lab and you hope for the best.