A long awaited reunion

The first entry of a blog, although not impressive or exceptional in itself, is still a first. It somehow sets the tone, and even if we’ve all always been told not to judge on a first impression, I know I can’t shake off a bad initial feeling, and respectively, that a good first impression has always something beneficial. Then, after a variable adjustment period, this first impression will slowly be replaced by who you really are.

So here I am, jabbering on about first impressions, whereas I (we) have so much to say. But one thing at a time: first of all let me thank you, whoever you might be, for coming here, going through the hassle of reading my (way too long) sentences and showing some interest for what we are doing or trying to do.

I don’t really know yet who I am writing for/to right now, but let me make an assumption to start with: the space enthusiasts that would initially, even by chance, wander into this blog, already know a great deal on the technical aspects of being an astronaut and training for a spaceflight. I’ve met so many that knew more than me on aerospace engineering or cosmology, or that could tell hundreds of space anecdotes that I had never heard about, that I’ve stopped trying to teach them anything: in the times of the internet, they already know. What they might not know, however, and what they might be looking for, is the inside day-to-day reality of being an astronaut: the constant traveling, the people you meet, the incredible experiences you live, what is already exceptional way before launch day, what is also difficult and sometimes painful but is still part of the job, the small stories, the jokes, the camaraderie, the up and downs, etc. Therefore -but it’s only my assumption and since our collective ambition is to all contribute to this blog, it might very well not be the case for everyone taking the pen- I’ll try to avoid too much technicality and focus on what’s usually not told in press conferences or PowerPoint presentations (but hey, don’t expect big secrets… those ones we keep for ourselves). It might also just be my character, I don’t know. What I know is that in a group like ours, you find as many different (strong) personalities and point of views than you have individuals, so expect the unexpected…

This being said, it still falls to me to set the scene right for the next one to follow, so as in every would-be good piece of literature, I still have to describe the set, and introduce the characters.

Star City in winter, seen from ESA astronauts' rooms

The scenery is very well known by many of the human spaceflight connoisseurs: it’s called Star City, near Moscow, and has been the training centre and residential place of Russian cosmonauts for 50 years now. As I am writing this from my room in the Prophylactorium (which serves as a rehabilitation centre after long duration spaceflights, and as a hotel with also some office space for NASA, ESA and JAXA personnel), I have a wonderful view of some of the Russian training buildings and residential blocks, and of the NASA cottages who accommodate US astronauts when they train here and seem to have been copied-pasted straight from the US. If I stretch my neck from the balcony and look left, I get a postcard view of the brand new wooden Orthodox church of Star City, and to the right, I can see the frozen lake and wooden terrain around. The weather is gorgeous today, in spite of the minus fifteen Celsius, and everything is covered in a pure white snow, knee high everywhere it was not cleared, that reflects the sunlight and damps all the sounds. I might be waxing lyrical  here even so slightly, but that’s really what it looks like; it hasn’t always been like this as they wen though difficult times in the 90s here, and I was also a little bit less romantic last week during the forest survival training, when I didn’t have the central heating of my room to give the scenery some added poetry from behind the window -but that’s probably worth another entry by itself. Anyway, Star City is a real small Russian town -school, police and all- with a cosmonaut centre within called GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Centre), and we spend our time here between GCTC’s training premises, the ESA office, the gym and the pool, our NASA colleagues' cottages and our rooms.

The rooms are at the same floor, it’s very much like being back in boarding school with some extra space and freedom, and when we arrived from Cologne with Andreas on Sunday night a week ago, we were met by Luca, our favorite Italian test pilot, freshly arrived from the US, whom we hadn’t seen in ages. Andy and myself are living in Cologne, Germany, where the European Astronaut Centre is located, but Luca has been assigned to a 2013 long duration flight on the ISS, so he is now traveling back and forth between Houston, where he now lives and trains on the US space assets, and GCTC where he has a lot of classes as well on the ISS, the Russian Soyuz that will be our ride into space, etc.

The ESA floor in the Prophylactorium

We hadn’t seen each other in a while, because even though our class is the most united group of people you could find, we are usually all over the world due to training or other activities, so we very seldom have the opportunity to meet together like in the (already) good old times. We were still catching up in our floor kitchen, where we will have meals and debates and laughs during the next weeks of training, when Samantha came in from the airport and joined the reunion. As a reserve astronaut, being trained to step in shall anything happen to a crew member before he launches, she also gets to travel a lot and has a schedule of her own, but this time she’s in Star City at the same time as us. The discussion continued well into the night, even after finishing up the welcome chocolates that Yuri and Anna, our ESA staff here, kindly left on the table for our group as a Christmas/new year present. We were joined after some days by Tim, whom I’m training with on the Orlan spacesuit now, and our group is now complete but for Alex, who is training in Houston for a spaceflight in 2014, and whose sense of humor we are missing a lot. So just by good fortune, our coincident training schedules reunited us here in Star City, and that seemed a good enough (or unlikely enough) reason to start our own blog.

5 out of 6 "Shenanigans" from the class of 2009, in GCTC

I’ve already written too much to start describing in details the group life we are living here, at our base in Cologne or elsewhere, the dynamics, the personalities, but we’ve already been through so much during Basic training and since we’ve been recruited, good and bad, that the bonds couldn’t be stronger and are here to stay. I can’t wait to play the guitar with Luca, have scientific debates with Andy over breakfast, drink espresso and speak French with Samantha at the Cosmonaut's canteen, go run laps with Tim in the cold around the lake…and that we start again playing practical jokes on each other (I am working on a top 10 of those, and trust me there are many to chose from, including some self-inflicted ones, but that’s probably part of the secrets we will keep…). Time is missing to tell all about what an incredible experience going through basic training, the first phase of astronaut education, with those exceptional people was, and time flies so fast that everyday brings new stories that push back the old ones. Anyway, we now have a blog, and in the future we’ll try to capture those moments and bring them to you, hopefully in a shorter and more condensed format than what my literary French background requires… we may also sometimes shift the focus more to training, and sometimes just to whatever we feel like saying... I leave it to the next contributors, but isn’t diversity also what makes the whole astronaut experience so exceptional after all?

To finish with, if you have questions (or even if you simply made it alive to here :-)), feel free to leave a comment!

Comments

29 Comments

  • Korneel says:

    Thank you for giving us an insight in the training of ESA's new astronauts! It's really cool as a space fan to follow your training here and on twitter. I can't wait until you guys get the chance to fly in space. Best of luck with the training!

  • I for one welcome our new astronaut blogging overlords. Thanks for bringing us aboard!

  • Bas says:

    Hi 'Shenanigans',

    Great to here fresh story's and insights from you all. Please don't be afraid to become technical now and then and some 'fresh' detailed information is also appreciated.
    Sometimes I'm a little jealous about your live(style) but I keep in mind what you leave back at home for it. So I can understand that you appreciate those moment together. Enjoy!

    • samanthacristoforetti says:

      Thank you for your feedback. We'll try to provide a good mix, please keep giving us your feedback as we go along!

  • Nice to read about your adventures! And very nice to see someone wearing the Shenanigans patch!

  • Room129 says:

    More than happy to see you all there ... and not in room 129 😉

  • Bill O'Hara says:

    Thank you for starting this blog and letting us follow along in your adventure. I had a question for you. Based on the experience you've had over the past several years, do you have any advice for those of us dreamers out here applying in the next selection to be a NASA astronaut?

    • Samantha Cristoforetti says:

      Well, if you are applying now, what had to be done to be ready you certainly already did. Now just try to be yourself!

  • Louie says:

    Literary astronauts, I love it! But, here's a thought... will you and the gang be astronauts or cosmonauts when you fly? Where does the ESA stand in relation to astro/cosmo division?

    I look forward to reading more. The day to day details are fascinating - though, I like the tecchie stuff too, would be thrilled with a mix of both! 🙂

    • Samantha Cristoforetti says:

      At ESA we are called astronauts. Cosmonauts is really reserved to our Russian friends. Although I don't think it's a big deal 🙂

      We'll certainly try to get the mix!

      • Gabrielle says:

        Kind of a mix already exists: a Marsonaut is either an astronaut, a cosmonaut, or a taikonaut, isn't he? 🙂 This time it's a question of planet, but I think some "Moononauts" could be jealous not to have their own name ^_^!

  • Destin says:

    I'm looking forward to reading much more about your exploits! I hope to meet you one day.

    Warm Regards from Huntsville AL,

    Destin

  • Gabrielle says:

    Merci de m'avoir fait part de l'existence de ce blog, il me permet de rêver encore plus 😉 Enjoy your training, I will keep following the crazy life you have !!!! Спосибо большое, мне так хочется быть с вами!

  • Angela and Nigel Peake says:

    Congratulations to Thomas and all the astronauts from Angela and Nigel Peake

  • seo says:

    I'm really loving the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility issues? A couple of my blog readers have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any advice to help fix this issue?

  • Ian Curry says:

    Beware the Peake practical jokes, as a former stick buddy I can attest to his imagination and planning in this department; the Gutersloh door incident is never to be forgotten. Have a great time together in Star City, keep the training going and try not to freeze off anything vital.

    • Thomas Pesquet says:

      Ah ah we've had several opportunities to get a taste of his skills... but the only department where the competition is fierce and relentless in this group is practical jokes!

  • Liz says:

    I look forward to reading about your experiences!

  • Gustavo Fabian Paredes says:

    Hi all.
    The truth is my great honor to write. Whenever I saw so far the possibility of becoming an astronaut that this contact is quite an event for me.
    Today I almost scrapped the idea for having 40 years, but one always leaves a hope (though very unlikely).

    I want to leave a warm greeting from Argentina and wish all the best of luck in their professional development in space.

    Maybe we can reach us by VHF (I am radio amateur) when orbiting the Earth.

    I am a teacher and I always try to excite my students with the news from astronautics. This blog will be made ​​known to them.

    A hug.

    Gustavo

    • Thomas Pesquet says:

      Very happy to know that human space flight has supporters in Argentina as well! It is a global adventure for all the citizens of this world! All the best and thanks for your support

  • Jesper Holst says:

    Hi Shenanigans!

    It's awesome to read about your training, I really enjoy it - keep up the good work!
    And just one question that you've probably gotten before: Do you know when ESA will recruit again? I'm a one of the many wannabe astronauts 🙂

    All the best!

    Jesper

  • Sarai Pahla says:

    It sounds like you are all very excited! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to write in this blog. Actually I would like to try and become an astronaut one day - at the moment it is a distant idea, but I think if I read about how you live, who you are, and how you got there, I can at least start to try 🙂 Good luck for the training - I look forward to reading more of the blog and asking LOTS of questions 🙂

  • Valeria Ronsivalle says:

    Ciao Thomas,
    un giorno, durante la Missione Volare, dissi ad AstroLuca che avevo letto degli Sheganinans2009, e che mi sembravate fantastici. Soprattutto qualcuno in particolare 😀
    Lui mi rispose : "Oh, allora vedrai quando arriverà Thomas che succederà.... tutti ne andranno pazzi !".
    Lì per lì non capii che volesse dire.
    Adesso che ho visto un tuo video, e letto alcuni tuoi blog mi rendo conto : Sei irresistibilmente divertente 😀
    Bene, Thom_Astro, hai appena acquistato una supporters, e visto che ti scrivo con Google Translate... mò sono problemi tuoi 😀
    Tu parli un poco l'italiano ?
    No eh ! 😀

    Hello Thomas,
    One day, I spoke to AstroLuca of Shenanigans2009, and I said: You are all fantastic. Especially someone in particular 😀
    He replied: "Oh, then we'll see what will happen when he arrives Thomas .... all will go crazy !"

    At first I did not understand what he meant.
    Now that I've seen your videos and read some of your blogs I realize: You are irresistibly funny 😀
    Well, Thom_Astro, you've just purchased a supporter, and since I'm writing with Google Translate ... Now the problem is yours 😀
    You speak Italian?

    No eh! 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.