The date for the launch was set at 28 May, but in Baikonur it would already be 29 May. We started this exciting day with another excellent breakfast and Alexander Gerst wishing us a Guten appetit.
We visited the Baikonur museum in the city. It’s at walking distance (around 20 minutes walking distance) and you walk pass the monuments to remember the 2 major accidents in the Russian Space Industry. The Nedelin disaster took place on 24 October 1960 killing many people (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nedelin_catastrophe)(see first picture).
After a quick diner in our favourite Internet cafe we were picked up at 7 to go to see the walk out of the astronauts. They leave their hotel with special cosmonaut busses (one for the prime and one for the back up crew). When we arrived they were just leaving their building. We waved and yelled at the gate and they waved back.
We had excellent sight. I stood behind family and friend of the prime crew. It was special to witness their emotions so closely. A lot of cheering and waving when they walked by. It was a joyful and happy event.
When the crews left we were able to visit Cosmonaut alley lined up with trees cosmonauts plant just before a launch. The tree of Yuri Gagarin was the largest and most beautiful of course. Not all trees survived the harsh climate of Baikonur. I found the tree of Alexander Gerst (freshly planted) and if André Kuipers (planted in 2004 before his first mission). My tweet before André’s tree got favourited and retweeted by André himself. He has over 313.000 followers so we got a lot of reach with it.
I also asked Govert Schilling and Marieke Baan to tweet the hashtag Alextweetup and they did. Adding significant reach.
After this we went for some drinks in ‘our’ party tent before going to another walk out. The astronauts were suited up in building 254 and they walked out to salute the state commission. We saw many famous faces (Sugmund Jähn, Thomas Reiter, Ulf Mehrbold, Jean-Jaques Dordain, Bob Behnken). It was the last time their families saw the crew. Maxim Suraev had a GoPro with him. It’s the first crew where all three tweet from space.
After the walk out we went to the viewing area at the tracking station. From there it’s only 1.2 km to the launch platform. We had 3 hours to spare but that was no problem. We had an excellent view on the rocket in the distance (well lit) and the temperatures were great. During the day the temperature reached 40 degrees Celsius.
We met the back up crew who turned into prime crew that evening. Samantha hugged us all and Alex badged them all. Even Father Sergei who was present on all events that day.
1 hour before launch the gantry retracts showing the Soyuz in full light. A couple of minutes before the launch the upper umbilical retracts. This can be seen from our viewing point. And without warning the engines start. A lot of light and than the sound of the rocket reaches us. The rocket seems to leave the platform very fast. The audience yells and screams. The sky is well lit. And soon the rocket is only a light point in the sky. We see the first stage fell back to earth and see even the third stage take over. This is the great advantage of a night launch. We are thrilled and can’t believe we witnessed a real rocket launch with 3 people in it. We want to stay there forever but we have to leave. It’s after 3 am when we reach the hotel again. Some of us decides to sleep while others will stay awake. We will be picked up at 7 to watch the docking. We see this in an auditiorium in some Roscosmos building. We miss the after docking press conference and the opening of the hatch but that doesn’t matter. We saw the launch.