It all started with Gagarin

Final tests for Mars Express
2 May 2003

Mars Express launch diary 8

As they approach the big day, the team have to rehearse, reports Don McCoy, Mars Express Assembly Integration and Verification Engineer.

"It's similar to when someone is about to perform on stage. In our case, the performance is out of this world. So is Mars Express's destination of course!

"Once the spacecraft is mounted on the rocket and sitting on the launch pad, it doesn't mean we can sit back. We still have to perform several operations to get it ready for its voyage. Mars Express is a very complex satellite and we must have a perfect send-off.

"We will spend about 8 hours talking to it via computers to configure it. It's one of the things that we have been rehearsing as well as performing the final tests to be sure it is ready for flight. By the beginning of May 2003, we will be ready to fill its tanks and start the road to the launch pad by starting its integration with the rocket.

"As I look around here, I realise just how lucky we are to be here, in Baikonur right now. This is the spot where the history of spaceflight actually started, with the Yuri Gagarin's flight into space. His flight departed from here on 12 April about 42 years ago. What's more, we will even be using the same basic rocket to send our spacecraft off to Mars as Gagarin used to fly into space. Now that's pretty rare, don't you think?

"It's worth a little celebration and we did just that by celebrating 'Yuri's night' along with people all over the world. After all, we also need a little relaxation after a gruelling series of continuous operations 7 days a week 10-14 hours a day.

"I wonder what it was like in Gagarin's time? I'm sure it wasn't easy for him and his colleagues to accomplish such pioneering work in human spaceflight. Being here we sometimes feel like pioneers too. It's been hard work to play our part in getting Mars Express ready to go to Mars but we are all happy to be a part of it!

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