The Soyuz launcher for the Marco Polo mission was erected on the launch pad on the morning of Tuesday 23 April 2002

Pre-launch photo report

L-2: Smooth roll-out to the launch pad

On the morning of Tuesday 23 April 2002 the Soyuz rocket for the Marco Polo mission was rolled-out of the Assembly and Testing Facility and moved to the launch pad. There the rocket was hauled into an upright position ready for Thursday's launch. Final launch pad testing then commenced.

L-1: Marco Polo crew presented to the press

The three man crew, ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenko and South African Flight Participant Mark Shuttleworth, were presented to the media at a press conference held at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday 24 April 2002.

During the press conference Roberto Vittori, on behalf of ESA, presented his crew members with a gift - a set of three hand-painted matrioschka dolls depicting the crew themselves. The presentation followed the traditional handshake of the three crew members.

Vittori presents his fellow crew members with hand-painted Russian matrioschka dolls depicting the three man crew

When asked what he would be taking with him on board the International Space Station, Roberto replied that while he was not superstitious, he always carried a 'toy' rabbit as a type of talisman during his many hours of flight training aboard military aircraft. He will also be taking, among other items, a special delivery of chocolates for the Expedition 4 crew currently residing on the Space Station.

ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, relaxed and smiling at the pre-launch press conference

Roberto confirmed that the final weeks of preparation for the launch had gone very smoothly and that he and his fellow crew members felt confident that all systems were in place for a successful launch tomorrow at 08:26 CEST (06:26 GMT).

Marking the crew's imminent departure, Flight Participant Mark Shuttleworth quoted Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space in 1961, when he said hoped the mission would be "taking off, flying and landing successfully".

The Marco Polo mission crew share a joke during the press conference at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

Last update: 3 May 2002

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