Roberto Vittori's Training Diary 2: An interview

Vittori training in Star City
16 April 2002

ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori will launch as part of the Marco Polo mission crew from Baikonur on 25 April. We spoke to him at Star City, just outside Moscow, shortly before he and his crewmates flew to Baikonur for the final check-outs and the launch itself..

So how goes the training, Roberto?

Fine. It's finished now, we're ready.

The training is over then?

Yes. We had our final exams last Monday. That's the whole crew: we take it together in the simulator, we have to respond to all sorts of emergencies that are thrown at us. We passed. We're ready.

So it's waiting for the launch, now?

Yes. We'll go to Baikonur one more time to check out the systems, make sure that everything fits. Then a few days when we can be with our families, and the trip to Baikonur again for the launch.

A little tension, surely?

A little. This is the end of a long training period. In some ways, for me at least, it is the culmination of 15 years as a pilot. We are all ready, we know what we must do, and we know we can do it. But of course there is a little tension.

So were all these years gaining experience worth it?

Of course. It isn't easy, you know. In some ways, our space flight is as much the end of a long journey as it is the beginning of a new one. But it's worth it for me, and the rest of the Soyuz crew think the same.

The Russians have been launching people into space from Baikonur for more than forty years, now. We're told there are a few pre-flight rituals that have become, well, almost compulsory. Not that astronauts would ever be superstitious, of course.

Superstitious? Certainly not. But this is my first flight: ask me about these things afterwards!

Roberto: you've put a lot of hard work into this flight. Will it ever become easier?

I hope so. In a few years time, space flight could be at least a little easier, more open to people who aren't professional astronauts. It will never be an everyday kind of thing, but I believe that Earth orbit will be much more accessible.

Between now and the launch date: waiting and thinking?

Of course. We're ready for our mission. The training is over. The real thing is next.

You're in quarantine, Roberto?

Yes, but we're not really sealed off. It's simply common sense, we don't want any of the crew to catch a cold or a dose of influenza in the last few days, so we stay out of the way of most of the rest of the base personnel.

Thanks, Roberto: we'll talk again before you launch. Oh, and by the way, there are around 360 million Europeans wishing you luck. And a lot of other people, too.

Thank you.

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