Baikonur tour — Soyuz TMA-06M launch
From October 18 till October 25 Vegitel has arranged a large program for US citizens. The central part of this tour was Baikonur visiting program and watching Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft launch. To be well prepared for such a unique trip our guests started their space program with a visit to Gagarin cosmonaut training centre. Some of them even had space trainings: they experienced overloading during centrifuge ride; performed operations in specialized Orlan spacesuit designed for extravehicular activity and realized what a complicated task it is to handle a spacecraft during manual docking. Our guests assured they will never forget this thrilling experience.
Having learned everything they could about cosmonauts and astronauts trainings in Star City our US guests went to Baikonur cosmodrome where all international space crews start their expeditions to the ISS. It is a wonderful place indeed to feel the atmosphere of spaceflight preparations and pre-launch excitement and to feel yourself a part of space exploration achievements.
This time the crew of Oleg Novitsky, Evgeny Tarelkin and Kevin Ford got ready to the launch from the 31 launch pad instead of traditional “Gagarin launch”, which made it possible for us to watch the roll out of the rocket and attend it from the very opening of assembly building gates to the installation on the launch pad. Magnificent weather, rocket against the background of a clear blue sky, interview with back-up crew, informal personal contacts with cosmonauts families members — all that created a wonderful atmosphere.
Our schedule was really busy. We visited spacecraft Soyuz assembly building; the room of the crew where final check of the spacesuits takes place, another assembly building where the rocket itself is assembled. After lunch and visiting the colorful local market where we bought various souvenirs we went to the International space school. For our guests it was a unique and exciting excursion with launch of rocket models at the school yard at the end.
International press conference of main and back up crews was the main event of the next day, and before that we had a traditional walk through Cosmonauts Alley. We saw the crews at the press-conference, who were in a good mood, joked a lot, told us stories from their childhood and were very optimistic waiting for their flight.
This day after lunch we also visited the History Museum of Baikonur and had a tour through the city, and in the evening we ended up by an extraordinary dinner in traditional Kazakh yurt.
On the 23rd of October everyone was excited and from the very morning repeated “Today is the day!” waiting eagerly to watch the launch. But first we planned to see the crew off to the cosmodrome. Traditionally the cosmonauts leave the hotel with a song– “Trava u doma” by Russian band “Zemlyane” (it is a famous song declared by Roscosmos to be a hymn of Russian cosmonautics). Our guests were so inspired that sang this song for the whole day and called it “green green grass”. At the cosmodrome we saw the cosmonauts already wearing spacesuits and ready for getting inside the spacecraft. We still had the time to visit famous Cosmodrome Baikonur museum, shuttle “Buran” and Gagarin and Korolev memorial houses. And at last we are the pad, where all the guests, specialists, family members of cosmonauts and back-up crew have gathered. We had a chance to have a lot of photos while waiting for the launch. Everyone there was really excited and felt belonging to something very special. At 14.51 (16.51 Moscow time) the Soyuz rocket with the spacecraft Soyuz-TMA-o6M was successfully launched from the pad 31 of cosmodrome Baikonur. We watched the rocket till it became a small dot on the blue sky and counted seconds to the orbit. An finally there was storm of applause, with happy tears in the eyes everyone congratulated each other with successful launch and discussed the events of these wonderful Baikonur days over and over again.
We wish the cosmonauts great success in their expedition, space health to our guests and wait for other space lovers to have such exciting experience.