Claudie's Training Diary 5: ready to go!
We talked to Claudi Haigneré on the afternoon before her launch. She was calm, confident and just a little excited about returning to space. "It's a fine, clear day here at Baikonur and preparations are just about complete. The crew of Soyuz TM 33 are ready to go. Shortly, we'll be going off to spend a little time with our families - there will be no chance of that tomorrow."
There are still a few pre-flight rituals to take care of: nothing to do with the constant checking and re-checking on which every successful space mission depends. Manned spacecraft have launched from Baikonur for more than 40 years - more than enough time to build some real traditions. Nobody would call Russia's cosmonauts - or Europe's astronauts - superstitious people. But there are certain, ah, customs that everyone respects.
"Most of them go back to the time of Yuri Gagarin. The night before any flight, the crew always sits together to watch a film. Not just any film: it has to be "White Sun of the Desert". It's a romantic thriller, set in the Caucausus: nothing to do with space. [Ed. note: 1971]
The next morning, before you leave your room, you have to sign your name on the door. Then we have a minute's silence together, to reflect. Then a very small glass of champagne, to toast the success of the mission."
So what's it like, sitting on top of a fully-fuelled rocket, waiting for launch?
"We are all in the Soyuz two hours before launch - that is, we are strapped in and in our suits at 5 am Baikonur time. There's a good deal to do, although obviously everything is still completely under ground control. There are communications to check, other systems. But there's time to think, too. And we will listen to some good Russian music: it's soothing."
Claudie: thousands of people have been following your diary on the Web. Anything you'd like to say to them?
"Yes. I'm doing this for you, too. While the mission is in progress, I'll try to share some of it with you. And when it's over, I'll be able to share more."
Thanks, Claudie. And good luck. We're all with you down here. But then, you knew that.