Claudie's Training Diary 2: a change of scene
At the end of August the Andromède crew flew to Houston to NASA's Johnson Space Centre, where they spent a week in mock-ups and simulators learning their way around the American section of the ISS.
"Theory is never enough," says Claudie. "For real confidence, you have to see and touch. Even though we will work almost exclusively in the Russian section, we will have the run of the whole station and we have to know our way around. It was also good to get to know the ground controllers and the CapComs, the people we'll be talking to from orbit. And to meet astronauts from America, Europe, Canada and Japan: it brings home just how international the project is."
The Houston visit offered another bonus: a reunion with the ESA astronauts who are training there. "Scattered between Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, we don't often have a chance to get together. Even though we're all in the European Corps of Astronauts, our lives are very different. It was good to meet again in a relaxed way, talk to people's wives and husbands. And when you see how big their children have grown, you realize just how quickly time passes."
Claudie and her colleagues were also able to spend some time with the space station's Expedition 2 crew, who had returned only a few days before. "They were all in great form: Yury Usachev, Susan Helms and Jim Voss were still readjusting after five months in orbit, but they were all delighted with their mission. They had a wonderful present for us, too: a preview of the wide-screen, three-dimensional IMAX pictures they had taken. It was almost as if we were already on board."
All in all, an extraordinary trip. "On the way back I stopped off in Paris to pick up my little girl Carla from her grandparents. We had a wonderful reunion after our long separation, even more so since by chance her father was in Paris, too. [Jean-Pierre is currently based in Germany as head of the ESA astronaut division] Then it was back to Russia and for Carla, back to kindergarten at Star City. She's delighted to be with her friends and to speak Russian again."
And the training programme? "We're now in the last stages of preparation. It's quite intense; so that we are ready for the last week in September, we have an exam practically every day. For the Soyuz, there are tests on manual piloting for approach, docking and descent; for the whole crew, exams on every part of the flight and aboard the station; an exam on a typical day's work. And medical exams, too. After a series of tests in September, the GMK - the Russian medical commission - will give us our final flight clearance. We've just been trying out our spacesuits for size and checking for leaks. Everything is ready.
"In October, after a few days' break with our families, we will go to Baikonur Cosmodrome for the first time. Our rocket and our Soyuz are there already: this will give us a chance to check everything out and to say anything that needs to be said about the spacecraft's equipment. We'll have a final opportunity a few days later, when we come to Baikonur again for the launch."
And then? "We'll talk about that later, when I tell you what happens at Baikonur in the ten days before the launch."