Soyuz TMA-7 liftoff from cosmodrome Baikonur/Kazakhstan, October 1st, 2005.
A little bit tired maybe, but with unplayed calmness and smiling like a school boy, he sits there behind the windowpane in his vacuum-dense space suit, the helmet folded back - no sign of strain on his 60-year-old face. It must be a joy to get closer to the dream of his life with every passing by of a minute. With every step he takes he looks onto his wristwatch to confirming his thoughts: "When does it go off then, finally?"
In the company of two experienced cosmonauts, the Russian Valeri Tokarev and the American William McArthur, the American and millionaire Dr Gregory Olsen wants to travel in few hours as the third space tourist in the history of the astronautics into space. With this last press conference before the liftoff - linked for reasons for quarantine only over microphones with the journalists, he answered the curious questions at last time, before he leaves this world.
Then it goes out into the black night of Kazakhstan. The Russian commander of the mission, Valeri Tokarev, salutes in front of the commanding general on the duty of the cosmodrome Baikonur, the biggest space port of the world, after that the three cosmonauts rise in the bus. The bus will take them to the liftoff onto the launchpad. Half an hour later they already sit inside of their space capsule 'Soyuz TMA-7' at the head of the 50 meters high Soyuz rocket. Their destination is the International Space Station ISS, 385 kilometres above ground.
We have positioned ourselves onto a small view rostrum, a board partition with corrugated sheet roof. Meanwhile, the night has given the way to a mild morning. From here there are no 2.000 meters to the rocket which rises now dewy like a daisy into the sky. So near nowhere in the world, someone can approach to a liftoff to the stars, somebody says.
Only few minutes. Now the platform is deserted. All engineers are in subterranean bunkers.
Our observation point bursts out at all seams. Many spectators have come: Journalists, cameramen, former cosmonauts, Russian officers, Nasa employees included NASA administrator Michael Griffin (his first voyage to Baikonur since he was selected to the head of the American space agency Nasa) and a group of American tourists with Greg Olsen jackets, and a special group of the American Museum of National History (AMNH). The whole has already almost an international public festival character and also the vodka flows in spite in the early morning hours. And inside this crowded place, inside we are with our group from Germany from Space Travellers.
Only a few seconds. The care arms are folded back and evaporating fuel swaths move by the steel scaffolding. Then the Countdown: "..., tri, dwa, odin, nol". The engines catch fire and the powerful rocket takes off. Immediately the flames join to a glistening beam of light and even before the deep boom to us penetrates, the rocket has already gone over some meters over our heads in a light sloping position. Faster and faster and smaller growing, the rocket shoots like a burning arrow in the deep blue, cloudless sky. Already a few moments later, the rocket is absent from every trace. We see only a white steam squiggle somewhere high on top. The persons present bang applause. Hands are shaken. Everybody congratulates everybody. After eight minutes it comes to the announcement, TMA-7 has separated the third stage and has entered into the revolution of the earth orbit.
For us and for the travel group from America this morning is a sensation - for the Russians pure routine. The cosmodrome Baikonur has experienced thousands of such liftoff's in its about fifty years old history. Nearly twice weekly in the high-level phase of the Soviet cosmonautics, rockets took off from here. From here the Soviets shot not only Sputnik, the first satellite into space, but also the first dog (Laika), the first man (Jury A. Gagarin), and at last, the first woman (Valentina Terechkowa). Over and over again the Russians had the nose in front in the hot race of the cold war. While the Americans boasted during the 70ies of the last century still of their moon-landings, the Russians already tested in a long time stays in all consequences the human organism in space. Lasting space stations served as a preparation for a trip for Mars, their red planet. With a few billion roubles more in the bag, they would have created it probably also already up to there.
However, the reality looks different. If one enters today for the first time the hotbeds of the Russian astronautics in Baikonur or in Star City, the education place of the cosmonauts not far from Moscow, a cultural shock of middle scale remains to one.
What comes up here to the eyes is hopeless and damaged. By the last window leftovers of dilapidated flat constructions is sounding the wind. Through the roofs of the training halls, it is raining.
Retired cars line the gutter of Star City and somewhere in the Kazakh steppe, half-finished spacecraft and space shuttles get dusty in forgotten facilities. The sun armoured the scrap rubbish lying around everywhere as if it had with its compassion.
Occasionally a monument symbolizes here and there the glory and the splendour of the past days. Nothing here has even the breath of a resemblance to the pictures of highly grown, modern space equipment as we are seeing from America. For many years the Russians lack the financial means which are necessary for a maintenance of the enclosures, as well as for continuing closed projects and research projects. Instead of building new, old things are mended, if necessary with chewing gum and adhesive tape.
Over and over again we ask ourselves: "How can all that only work?" But it works! And nearly perfectly. Thanks to their brilliant scientific pioneers, engineers and technicians, the Russians have created a system, that better, more reliably and more cheaply could not be. The technology is simple, almost already primitive and for more than forty years except some modifications has remained the same. For what should one also change it, if it has proved itself for decades? Faithful to the motto: All complex is superfluous, the system of the improvisation-competent Russians is a draft from low-tech, tradition and everyday routine.
In the morning of the so-called "rolling-out of the-Soyuz", two days before the liftoff, we can be astonished only at it, with what a sunny mind here even by the preparations for a manned space flight becomes works gone: In the first rays of the rising sun the gate of the manufacturing hall opens. A diesel locomotive comes out and pulls the rocket horizontally lying on a special vehicle in comfortable walking speed to the launchpad.
Then a few engineers look themselves into the rocket, and a hydraulic lever heaves the immense floor in its vertical position. Playing the act takes place immediately with our eyes. No nervousness. No hectic rush. A day, as carefree as in the Playmobil-country.
The fact that Baikonur calls translated 'brown earth', burns itself us with every other day more deeply in the eye: 6.700 square kilometres, 20 launching pads, 1.500 kilometres of streets, a dozen blow holes. Limitless, inhospitable steppe so far the eye passes - 10 times greater than the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Any space activity of the former Soviet Union has taken place here a few years ago still secretly. Not the slightest information might trickle through. Today the Russians have opened the gates to their former sanctums. Friendly we have led around and get everything shown: Production halls, simulation devices, cosmonaut's looks and the biggest centrifuge of the world, located in the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City.
The events trickle only as well as water from a pipe onto us: In adventurous military machines, we fly back twice straight across the continent - from Star City to Baykonur and again back to Star City. At the end, we philosophise by candle-light and vodka with Jurij Gidzenko, the Soyuz commander of the first long-duration flight crew of the International Space Station on the future of the Russian astronautics. 'Unfortunately, we depend on many millions from abroad to hold the engine of our astronautics in service', he says. 'But it runs. And this is most important'.
Two days after the liftoff of the mission we can follow in the control centre (MCC) of Koroljow on a gigantic screen even the docking of the space capsule to the International Space Station ISS. Everything lives, in 3D and colour! We are overpowered. Even once in all, it must be better to fly in real into space.
(c) Copyright 2006 for text and pictures by Markus Gloger/Space Travellers
Markus Gloger accompanied us on our tour in September/October 2005 to Star City to the GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonaut training Centre) and for the liftoff of Gregory Olsen to Baykonur.
Markus is a professional photographer with the sense "for the absolute picture ".He has already travelled around some countries of the earth, as for example Tibet, Nepal, Bahrain and the Azores where he shot unique photos for different travel journals as well and he wrote travel reports.
We are very glad to be able to win him for our unique worlds and one is sure: He accompanies us also furthermore on our special tours because he is the 'right man at the right place' for pictures as well as for reports.