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Monthly archive December, 2011

SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Launch Day!

SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Launch Day!

More launch pads, SoyuzTweetup and a Launch!

Launch dayBaikonur, 21 December 2011 – Finally. Today is the day we have been living up to for a long time. The launch of Soyuz TMA-03M, with ‘the’ Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers on board. It is still dark outside when I wake up around 8 o’clock. Today our program consists of two major visits. First we will go to the furthest launch location at the cosmodrome: the Proton launch facility. Then we have some time in the city before going to launch pad 1 for the launch in the early evening.

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SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Day 3

Launch Pads, Space Shuttle and Public Outreach

Gagarin MonumentBaikonur, 20 December 2011 – After breakfast at our hotel we are greeted again by our guide Elena and driver Said. The uncomfortable van is heated up and waiting for us, this time with the Tsenki security lady already inside. When we leave she hands us two “cosmodrome rules” forms and asks us to sign a list with our names on it. No idea why this was not needed yesterday, but we happily comply. We are waved past the city exit checkpoint, and easily pass the cosmodrome entrance checkpoint. Then again a long empty road to the cosmodrome facilities. This time we go straight on, towards the far end of this middle section at site 250. This launch pad is no longer active, but of great historical importance, as it was built for the Russian space shuttle Buran in the 1980’s.
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SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Day 2

A week in one day

Soyuz rocketBaikonur, 19 December 2011 – At the moment I write this I have spent 28 hours in Baikonur. That is 26 more than when I wrote my blog yesterday. But it feels like more, way more. A day with a full schedule and weird coincidences, which can turn an ordinary trip into a great adventure! It definitely turned these 26 hours into an experience that feels like a week. It started with the alarm clock at 7:30 this morning… (more…)

SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Day 1

A late night arrival in Baikonur

Gagarin in BaikonurBaikonur, 18 December 2011 – I write this blog on my first evening in Baikonur. Actually, I crossed the border checkpoint from Kazakhstan less than two hours before writing this. So far I have experienced Baikonur city as dark, remote and extremely cold. When our local guide Elena Galaktionova (that’s her real name) picked us up at the Tyuratam railway station, she herself said that at -25°C even the locals consider it very cold. (more…)

Space Tweep Society patch seen on Science Channel show, Meteorite Men

If you didn’t see it already, the Space Tweep Society patch was quite visible in the latest episode of Meteorite Men, on the Science Channel. The patch was worn by one of the show’s stars, Geoff Notkin, who is also a space tweep. Thanks so much for showing pride in the society, Geoff!

You can follow both @geoffnotkin and the show @MeteoriteMen on Twitter.

520 Days of Dreams and Hope

520 Days of Dreams and Hope

The Russian Phobos-Grunt mission may not have been the success everyone had hoped, but the dream of Mars exploration is far from fading. On November 26, 2011, the world witnessed the spectacular launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft, including the new Curiosity rover, aiming to uncover the secrets of Mars and hopefully gather evidence of life on the Red Planet. It won’t be long before a shiny-new powerful rocket carries the first people on the Marsian surface!

But before a mission putting humans on Mars can even begin to get planned, we need to understand and master the difficulties inherent in such a long and unprecedented trip into the Solar System.

The Mars500 experiment, concluded on November 4, 2011, promises to deliver interesting results on the physiological and psychological effects that prolonged isolation has on the human body. During the experiment six ‘marsonauts’ (three Russian, two European and one Chinese) were sealed in an isolation chamber, in Moscow, Russia, for 520 days, i.e. for the duration of a trip to Mars and back. Mars500 simulated almost every aspect of such interplanetary travel, including time-lagged communications and a Mars landing.

To celebrate the successful conclusion of the mission, ESA organized the #Mars500Tweetup, on December 6, 2011 in Rome, during which 20 SpaceTweeps got to meet the two ESA members of the Mars500 crew, Romain Charles (@Romain_CHARLES) and Diego Urbina (@diegou).

Credit: ESA

Not resembling to the least the little green men you would normally expect ;-), Diego and Romain stood among us, tall and proud, looking happy and content – although admittedly a bit pale (…nothing a long and well deserved vacation on a sunny white beach can’t fix!).

Credit: @mgilbir

They talked to us about their lives ‘on board’ the modules, their training for this mission and the experiments performed during the ‘trip’. But, also, about everyday trivia of this amazing experience, like celebrating Christmas, New Year and Halloween, entertaining their monotony with music and art, as well as the secret recipe for Marsian Balls and Mars Pizza. Their eyes lit up when they described the docking and landing simulation on the Marsian surface, almost as you would expect if they had actually been there. We listened (..and religiously tweeted) as Romain and Diego took us on trip of dreams and hope into to the future of human spaceflight.

Undeniably, this mission was not a fun one to go through; it was hard and tedious and, probably, unbearable at times. As Diego told me on the eve of the Mars500tweetup, “it was in mid-August, on the completion of 438 days in isolation, when we received a message from cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, congratulating us braking his record for the longest time ever spent apart from the natural world, that I actually realized that we were doing something truly special”.  And he repeated during the Mars500tweetup: “being part of something greater than yourself is an amazing motivation.

Credit: ESA

The results of the scientific experiments will be released in the months to come. But, one result was already abundantly evident to me: Without having ever met them before, you could undoubtedly tell that, if the Mars500 mission has accomplished one thing, that’s to alter the crew’s perspective on life. In Diego’s own words, as documented in his Mars500 Mission Diary: “….this was not a journey into the cosmos, but a journey to know ourselves and our minds, to realize how important respect and communication are …, how fundamental are the links to the real world, thin and fragile as they may be…”. “We somehow ended up feeling a little bit more human than normal, by having been taken ‘away from humanity’”. “Forget about the things you don’t have and squeeze all the juice out of the things that you DO…!

Thank you Sukhrob, Alexey, Alexandr, Wang, Romain and Diego for giving up 1.5 years of your lives for the advancement of space exploration.

 

Check out the entire story of the Mars500 mission here.

SoyuzTweetup: A new virtual space tweetup concept?

When starting the initiative for a space tweetup in Baikonur I was hoping for a large number of live attendees to accompany me to Kazakhstan for the December 21 launch. But with launch dates being suspended indefinitely after the Progress M12-M loss in August, and a late announcement of new – still uncertain – launch dates around Christmas, it is not a surprise that many interested would not risk an expensive trip to the middle of nowhere under those circumstances.

So here I am, rethinking the idea of the tweetup. How can we have a tweetup without any other spacetweeps in Baikonur? Well, the answer is simple: I will have all fellow spacetweeps travelling with me! This is 2011! Virtual presence at a  tweetup is as valuable as physical presence! Past launch events have shown that tweeps do not necessarily need to be onsite to have great interaction with each other and with folks present! Livestream video is now commonplace during all international launches, be it by NASA, Roscosmos, Arianespace or even the Chinese space agency. A combination of Twitter and these live images make for a great event.

So no need to be disappointed about travelling to Baikonur by myself (well, in a small tour group with a handful of non-tweeps space fans). I will represent all my spacetweep friends that follow the event through several news updates, video feeds and my reports on twitter! And I will do my best to add some couleur locale to all that news. Sort of a live onsite reporter on twitter for all my followers. I will do the travel and stand the blistering cold, while the other participants can enjoy the experience from the warmth of their own home or office 🙂

I am looking forward to traveling to Baikonur with all of you! Please follow my live adventures here, from 17 until 24 December.

Note: Remco will travel to Baikonur to attend the launch of Soyuz TMA-03M on 21 December 2011. On this date NASA astronaut Donald Pettit (@astro_pettit), ESA astronaut André Kuipers (@astro_andre) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononeko will be launched to ISS. Here they will join the current ISS crew to form a normal 6-men crew again, as expedition 30 and 31.