André Kuipers' diary - Part 8: New crew and a memorial service
29 January – 4 February This week I was once again unexpectedly confronted with a change to the crew. The last time this happened was a few weeks ago, when Bill McArthur had to stand down for medical reasons.
The choice of permanent crew for the Space Station is a matter for the Russians and Americans. I am not involved in the decision. The Russian cosmonaut Gennadi Padalka has been selected as the Commander, and the NASA astronaut Mike Fincke as the Second Engineer. These two have already trained together for a long time for the Space Station. This does not affect my mission. Padalka is now my new commander in the Soyuz.
We trained together for the first time this week and everything went perfectly. Padalka has already flown in the Soyuz and he has spent nearly six months on board the old space station, Mir. We get on well together, and the teamwork is excellent. It is a pity, of course, that Tokarev and McArthur will now have to wait for a later flight, but at least they are on the waiting list.
Apart from the intensive training in the Soyuz, I have to do a lot of training to get to know the Space Station. In an enormous hall here at Star City, stand full-size models of the Zvezda and Zarya. These are the Russian sections of the Space Station, complete with pipe fittings, solar panels and antennae. They look rather like an overstuffed aeroplane cabin. Inside, you can see the quarters for the permanent crew, a dining table, exercise equipment, fans, computers and equipment on every wall because, of course, there is no 'up' or 'down' in space. In short, everything that is there for real has been copied in the simulator.
In the simulator I can practise doing the scientific experiments and using all the systems in the Space Station. During the training with the new crew this week, something started leaking and the air pressure fell. We had to try to trace the leak and repair it. Eventually, the leak proved to be too big and we had to evacuate the Station using the Soyuz capsules. Fortunately, it is just a training exercise now. There is not much chance of it happening for real, but naturally we are taught to deal with all eventualities.
On Friday, I went to the Dutch Embassy to celebrate the New Year with the numerous Dutch people who work in Moscow. It was a pleasant evening. Due to training in the Soyuz simulator, I was late setting off, and what with the traffic jams, I only arrived when the evening was supposed to end. Fortunately, it lasted a lot longer than officially planned!
On Sunday, I attended a rather less festive meeting at the American Embassy. It was precisely one year since the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, and this was commemorated with a solemn ceremony.
It was also a personal commemoration for me. I had been involved in the medical research and the training of these astronauts, and I showed them around Amsterdam when they were in the Netherlands. Dave Brown was a good friend of mine. He even sent me an email from on board the Shuttle. I have printed his email on a photo of Columbia's crew, and I will take it with me on my own journey into space.
Next week I will be in Houston, in America. There I will train on the American sections of the Station. In the American laboratory I am going to use a special compartment called the 'Microgravity Science Glovebox' to carry out some of the experiments. This was supplied to NASA by ESA and was partly built by Dutch companies. I will also learn about many other procedures, such as how the fire extinguishers, gas masks and alarm systems work, where I can find all the equipment for my experiments, and how I can telephone and email to Earth. We will cover all this as a crew, and we will also run through it with the people who will be keeping an eye on the mission from the control centre. Something of a dress rehearsal, really.
Now that we have a new crew, we also needed a new emblem on our spacesuits. Our three names are on it, plus a symbolic image. The colours of the flags, for example, and two groups of stars – one group of four stars and the other three. Together they represent the number 43, which is the number of years since Yuri Gagarin went into space. But if you add them up, they also come to seven – the number of crewmembers on board Columbia.