Alexander in the real Soyuz

Sitting in the real Soyuz-Spacecraft

In my last entry I wrote that the best moments of my training were when the curious little child in me wakes up and  gets excited. For sure, this will happen more and more often, because when training for the experiments I will run in space I must work with the best technology on the edge of what is possible and with the world’s best scientists. On the other hand, as an astronaut you quickly learn that it is better not to press any button out of curiosity until you are absolutely sure of what the buttons do! We approach new situations with cool analytical logic.

A few months ago I failed to suppress my excitement. I found myself sitting for the first time in my life in a real-life spaceship. The spaceship was almost identical to the one that will carry me to space in a few months. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, I was actually encouraged to touch any buttons I chose.

Soyuz TMA-11M launch with Expedition 38 crew and friends. Credit: NASA-B. Ingalls

Soyuz TMA-11M launch with Expedition 38 crew and friends. Credit: NASA-B. Ingalls

It is not so uncommon for astronauts in training to work with equipment that has already been in space. During our underwater training we work for six hours straight in spacesuits that have been used in outer space. Still, it is a completely different feeling to sit in a shiny new spaceship that was only built for one purpose: to send people from planet Earth where human life began to an environment that is completely new, unintuitive, and life threatening: space.

The purpose of this spaceship test – six months before launch – was for my colleagues and I to compare the spaceship simulators we use in our daily trainings to the real thing. It is amazing how identical they are. The difference between mock-up spaceships and a real spaceship is hardly noticeable – except for the smell which reminds me of a new car.

A few months ago three friends of mine – the team that I was working with as back-up astronaut – left Earth on this spaceship flying on top of a Russian Soyuz rocket. The first man to enter space was launched from the same launch pad in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Already my friends have docked with the International Space Station that is orbiting our planet at 28 000 km/h. They will live for six months in space and conduct research.

The little boy in me is thrilled.

This blog entry was translated from Alexander Gerst’s original text in German.