Launch day: Thursday 25 April 2002

Roberto is suited up ready for the launch
25 April 2002

10:27 CEST (08:27 GMT) On their second pass over Russian ground stations after being inserted into a slightly elliptical orbit (216 by 189 km) around Earth earlier this morning. ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, his commander in the Soyuz capsule Yuri Gidzenko and Spaceflight Participant Mark Shuttleworth from South Africa were still busy running a number of tests to assure the critical functions of their spacecraft.

This included testing the life support system functions and ISS docking system. They are looking forward to finally removing their uncomfortable spacesuits during the next off-communication period. A correction of the initial orbit is planned for the fourth orbit, putting the main engine of the spacecraft into first use. While the crew is out of communication reach of the Russian ground stations after this manoeuvre they will rest and make themselves comfortable in their new surroundings for the next 40 hours.

We will give updates on the flight status tomorrow and rejoin the crew for their attempt to dock with the ISS scheduled for Saturday 27 April 2002 at 09:52 CEST (07:52 GMT).

09:58 CEST (07:58 GMT) A brief message from Roberto inside the capsule after coming back into communications reach with TsUP on the first orbit following the successful launch: "I am feeling fine". He was too busy to comment further, working on a series of tests with his commander. These tests are to assure the function of the life support systems of the Soyuz and the docking systems. For these activities the controls within reach of the left hand seat, which Roberto occupies, are critical. It will take the crew another two orbits before they are allowed to enter the ‘living’ compartment of the Soyuz capsule and take off their spacesuits.

A successful launch for the Marco Polo mission
A successful launch for the Marco Polo mission

08:26 CEST (06:26 GMT) Perfect lift-off of Marco Polo mission, exactly on schedule.

If you were watching the launch transmission, you would have seen what looked like toy hanging inside the Soyuz 'cockpit'. This is not only a good luck charm, the little toy also allows the crew to identify when they have finally reached the state of weightlessness, since it then starts to float.

Marco Polo mission crew going up to the Soyuz capsule
A last wave to friends and family

06:00 CEST (04:00 GMT) The crew is transported by bus to the launcher and enters the Soyuz capsule some 2.5 hours before launch.

A last cheerful wave as the crew of three enters the lift to the Soyuz module.

Top to bottom:
Commander Yuri Gidzenko
Flight Engineer Roberto Vittori
Flight Participant Mark Shuttleworth

Last checks after Marco Polo crew dons spacesuit at Baikonour
A final pre-launch press conference with the crew

Early this morning, the crews arrived at the launch pad to get suited up. Each was helped in turn into his spacesuit. Their spacesuit air tightness and functioning was checked out and monitored in the actual launch position, which is not too comfortable.

A short pre-launch press conference of the Soyuz TM-34 crew was held, and also the ceremony of reporting crew readiness for launch to the Chairman of the State Commission V.V. Alaverdov.

The Soyuz rocket waits on the launch pad. Final checks are completed ready for the arrival of the crew.

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