Posted on December 11, 2016 by thomas
Diary entry 1: An emotional arrival
Realised in collaboration with le Parisien Magazine / Aujourd’hui-en-France Magazine
I am here! What an incredible feeling! I am finally on the International Space Station, 400 km from Earth. When I docked to the Space Station together with my colleagues, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and Oleg Novitsky, it was a relief. After more than two days of travel, I could finally leave the cramped capsule, which is only 2,5 meters long. Of course I admit that I was also excited to discover the Station where I will be staying for six months. When we opened the airlock to enter inside, I was overcome by emotions. While I did not weep tears of joy (that is not my style), I was very, very happy!
In that moment, I thought of all the work that got me to this moment: my studies to become an airline pilot, the astronaut selection process, my preparation for this mission, the sacrifices I have made. I have a memory that works in a peculiar way: I retain good memories only, so I tend to forget the typically ‘unpleasant’ things like the long winter months working in Moscow without seeing my family. I am lucky to have had this opportunity and knowing this, the obstacles I encountered no longer matter. Ever since my first seconds in the Space Station, I have been thinking to myself: “If I had to do it all again, I would sign without hesitation.”
At the entrance of the station, three astronauts were ready and waiting for us. They had arrived at the International Space Station 19 October: the American Shane Kimbrough and the Russians Sergei Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko were starting to get bored, all three of them. Even if you are busy working all day, it takes six of us to keep each other occupied when we are far away from friends and family. After some hugs, they showed us around, offered us some food, taught us how the security devices function in case of fire or depressurisation.
At first, being in microgravity is very disturbing. On Earth, we train in modules fixed to the ground. Here, there is no ground! So you get the impression that things move. Something is on your right, a second later on your left and another minute later, it has made its way to the ceiling. It is very disorienting. On top of that, floating around for the first time you do not feel comfortable right away. I started by wanting to move around very quickly. I bumped into just about everything. It was confusing. But after a couple of hours, you get the hang of the technique.
Even though we were exhausted when we arrived on Saturday evening, we did not go to sleep right away. We had to notify people on Earth that all was well. That is why we organised a press conference live from space. The journalists bombarded us with questions. But what was most important to me was talking to my relatives. After the conference, I talked to my partner Anne. She had been worried for weeks and I got the impression that she was finally reassured now that I had arrived at the International Space Station.
The Sunday after our arrival passed extremely quickly. Time flew as we got installed and tried to find our way around, especially as the ISS is like a maze. There are things stored everywhere, on the ceiling, on the sides. Needless to say it is not always easy to locate what you’re looking for. Next to acclimatising, we also started working. Except for Wednesday 23 November, the day our toilets broke. And since nothing in space is easy and above all, none of us are plumbers, it took us all day to fix them.
Luckily, I found some time to observe our planet from the Cupola. What struck me the most was that our planet shines! It is not something we are aware of, but due to the reflection of the sun on the clouds and blue oceans, Earth is phosphorescent. It is illuminated and absolutely sublime. And all of a sudden you feel very small. Besides cities at night there are not many signs of human life. Amazingly, it is the immensity of nature and oceans that dominates our planet.