Aside from all the technical and official work we also need to rest before launch. And there are many ceremonies and traditions. In addition we were treated to a beautiful lunar eclipse. In the clear winter night the moon became visible as a three dimensional orange coloured ball. A Proton rocket was also launched, we were able to see it leave from a long way away, on the roof of our cosmonaut hotel. During the traditional flag ceremony a funny moment occurred when my commander, Oleg Kononenko, walked towards the Dutch flag whereas I went for the Russian flag. The colours of both nations flags are of course, the same and the flags were not raised yet…

Traditions

Another tradition is placing our Sojuz TMA-3M and ISS Expedition 31 stickers on the windows ofZX the cosmonaut bus. The stickers from my TMA-4 and Delta mission back in 2004 are still stuck on the same window. Every other day we go to the sauna. A new building has been built next to the hotel and it is very relaxing to be with the other cosmonauts and the doctors. As usual I brought Old Amsterdam cheese and Dutch ‘stroopwafels’ and my Russian, American and Japanese colleagues brought their own snacks to the table.

The visit to the museum at the launch site was very interesting. The museum artefacts took me back in time. The control panel from the launch bunker of Gagarin’s rocket from 1961 including the ignition button is on display. Some traditions have to be cancelled due to the cold. For example we will not be planting any trees.

I went to visit the tree I planted last May. It is still there. Not much life was visible but it is -20 degrees Celsius, maybe leaves will appear in spring.

We are well fed. We sit in a separate room at the cosmonaut table with the backup crew and the commander’s doctor. Three warm entrées, main courses and desserts a day. We all skip a course every now and again otherwise we would gain weight too easily. You might think: what difference does an extra kilo make? This is very important in space flight. The Sojuz navigation and in particular the timings of the engine ignitions on the way to the ISS are calculated based on the distribution of weight in the capsule. So we are not allowed to deviate too much in terms of weight.

The weather is beautiful and it is wonderful to be outside every now and again. The doctors will not allow us to go outside for too long however. I can hear sticks hit the ice through the evening air. The trainers are playing ice-hockey and I would love to join them. I decide not to, so soon before the launch…