When Space Shuttle Discovery lifts-off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the waiting will finally be over for Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang. Fuglesang took some time out from final preparations for the flight to talk to the ESA Portal.
The moment when the Shuttle clears the launch pad and roars into a night sky over Florida will be one of the highlights of the mission for Fuglesang.
“When the solid booster rocket lights up,” Fuglesang explains, “then you know that we are going somewhere, and that somewhere is up!”
“The waiting has been tough” adds Fuglesang, who was assigned to the STS-116 mission in 2002. On the plus-side the crew has got to know each other well and there is plenty of good advice from the more experienced astronauts. “They have given us tips about things such as how you sleep and using the toilet in space.”
There has also been some practical guidance from Fuglesang’s spacewalk partner Robert Curbeam, himself a veteran of three previous spacewalks from the ISS, “It is easy to find your way during training in the pool, but once you get up there, in weightlessness people tend to get disorientated.”
The next part of the mission that Fuglesang is looking forward to is eight and a half minutes into the flight when the Shuttle’s engines are switched off. “From then we will be able to feel the weightlessness, and we can look out the window and watch the Earth go by,” he says.
Moving around in weightlessness isn't always easy for first-time flyers; Fuglesang expects to experience some difficulties at the start. “It is something you learn as time goes by – how to coordinate your motion. To begin with you have to be careful you don't hit your head when you fly around the Space Shuttle.”
Three days into the mission and it will be time for Christer Fuglesang to take part in his first spacewalk outside the International Space Station. “The first time you go out of the hatch – that will be a really big moment of course.”
In amongst a busy work schedule, Fuglesang hopes to find some time to look out the window at planet Earth. For Sweden’s first astronaut there is one other thing that will help complete his mission – he is hoping to get a glimpse of his home country from space.