The day after arrival in Baikonur was a special day. We went to the launch basis. We took two separate buses of course, as the prime crew and backup crew are always separated. In a large building we saw our Sojuz capsule ready for lift-off. It is impressive to see the spaceship that will allow us to fly around the Earth. The capsule is visible in a large hall and is supported by scaffolding. The first time that we entered the spaceship as crew we were dressed in overalls. We could not enter through the side entrance as we do in the simulator in Star City. The real Sojuz does not have a door there. We had to crawl through the living quarters and from there climb down to the command module.

The large-scale test ‘primerka’ is made to check if everything works as expected. It also allowed us to work out how best to enter the spaceship in our spacesuits. The Sojuz is a tight fit with lots of fragile equipment. The simulations are well done but the real thing is different. Some instruments are in a different place, flaps can be easier to operate, sometimes harder and the computers need different start-up procedures.

Real spacesuit
When we had finished our check the backup crew had a look in the Sojuz. In the mean time we could put on our spacesuits. We carried out a leak test on our suits while the media and colleagues observed from behind a glass wall. This will be same procedure on the day of our launch. My real

spacesuit is a better fit than the training suit. However, by design, I am hunched over in both models. After a long period standing up in the suit while answering journalist’s questions I felt my back complaining. The suit is obviously made for sitting.
After the leak test we crawled into the Sojuz again. This reminds me of spelunking, that is descending into caves. I carefully descended to commander’s chair, closed the hatch behind me and slowly shuffled into my own chair. Once I was seated, the hatch opened and the next cosmonaut entered. All tubes, cables and belts were attached as planned and we got into our launch position. Once again the suits where checked for leaks. We put on our gloves and closed our helmets.

Long, difficult and warm
Finally we reached the hardest part of the checks: the chair. Just before the Sojuz lands the chair raises on a large spring. The spring absorbs the shock of impact. Of course this makes a cramped space even smaller. Of course we tested this as well. We had to climb out of the capsule in any way possible. It is a tedious, difficult and mainly warm process whereby one has to turn and move into the commander’s chair, open the hatch and climb up and out.

After a shower and a lunch it was time to check all the equipment that is being taken as cargo. The experiments and equipment from, amongst others, ESA, were well packed. Some things I will need during the flight in the Sojuz and I hope that I will be able to find them easily in the living quarters during our second visit to the capsule.