André Kuipers' diary – Part 3: Russian culture and Jules Unlimited

Trip to the forest
A weekend away together in Russia

12 - 18 december 2003
This weekend, I went on trip in the woods with my fellow crewmembers. I have already been out in the Netherlands with my Russian commander, Valeri Tokarev, and with Bill McArthur while training at Houston in America. This time it was great to learn a bit more about the Russian traditions. On Friday it was fatty meat, nature and vodka, on Saturday, museums and luxurious food – a day of culture.


We went to Rostov and Jaroslav. Rostov is where Valeri Tokarev grew up. Now, because of he is a cosmonaut, he is a hero here. Photos of him hang in hotels and restaurants, and everyone knows his name. The same applies to the first woman cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. She also came from Rostov.

Valery Tokarev
Photos of Valeri hang in the hotels and restaurants of Rostov, and everyone knows his name

We called in on Valeri's mother for tea. After that, we visited the mayor and spoke to the local media. Above all, the journalists wanted to hear personal details. They asked about my daughters, my girlfriend and the kind of work I do.

Winter clothing

I had to wrap up warm because it is starting to get pretty cold in Russia. Fortunately, I was able to borrow Joeri Karkapolow's military winter clothing. He used to be the chief of the training division in Star City. Now he works for ESA in Russia.

On Monday and Tuesday morning I had medical examinations for the umpteenth time. On Monday I had to give blood and urine samples and on Tuesday I had to see all kinds of specialists, such as the internist and the optician. I do not have to lead a healthier lifestyle now that the mission approaches, but I do have to avoid risks. Unfortunately, this includes skiing. Of course, you are not allowed to do anything really dangerous before your flight. The test results were OK.

EVA training at Star City
The big swimming pool in Star City is used to train for space walks

Laser measurement

Later in the day, during training, I made my first acquaintance with the laser system. This is intended for use if the radar malfunctions while we are docking with the Space Station. You can use laser beams to measure the distance to the Station and hence the speed as well. If anything goes wrong with the radar, I am the one who has to clamber into the habitation module and give the readings to the commander.

After training, I called in to see what my colleagues were doing. They were training in the Hydrolab, a big swimming pool with a model of the Space Station at the bottom. During their six-month mission, they will fit sensors to the Space Station for the European cargo ship, the ATV. The big swimming pool is the best place to train for space walks. I have also done this once, even though no space walks are planned on my mission. This training is very hard work, but great fun.

Soyuz training Kuipers
In the Soyuz simulator


Wednesday was devoted to the Dutch television programme 'Jules Unlimited'. They were busy filming throughout the day for two special broadcasts about my mission. They wanted to see everything. I put my spacesuit on; we filmed a sequence in the simulator and I explained the structure of the Space Station in general terms. Of course – I had to explain how you go to the toilet in space, so I just started up the apparatus.

The film crew were quite surprised to see the apartment where I live; they found it really quite ok. We went on to talk about on-board documentation. This is very specialised and also in Russian. For non-astronauts it is like some strange, magical script.

Last update: 16 February 2004

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