The crews had to manage six complex scenarios.

The crews had to manage six complex scenarios.

Thursday, 24 November, was a great day for the ATV program. The prime crew, André Kuipers and Oleg Kononenko, and the backup crew, Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide, passed their ATV-3 final exams at Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC).

A thin snow-blanketed exam day at GCTC started off with the backup crew Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide. Since ATV-3 docking is planned during the regular crew handover on the station, André and Oleg should have an ATV backup crew available. This backup crew should be fully trained on ATV matters and especially on technical details of rendezvous. Yuri and Aki drew their fate out of a set of envelopes: Run through six complex scenarios. Yuri was the prime operator when ATV Jules Verne docked to the Russian service module (SM) in 2008, so thanks to his experience and lots of training hours they were able to perform very well in the exam.

They draw their fate out of a set of envelopes to go through 6 complex scenarios.

Teams draw their 'fate' from a set of envelopes: Yuri & Aki 'won' 6 complex scenarios...

After the two successfully completed their test, the prime crew arrived all suited up and drew again one of the envelopes to determine their test fate.

A commission composed of ESA experts, experts from RSCE-Energia, senior representatives of GCTC and former cosmonauts observed, took notes, and carefully followed all actions, reports and even gestures of the crew throughout their exam.

You could really feel the tension within the thick and steamy atmosphere of the room as ATV wandered outside of its preplanned docking corridor, approached too fast or even ‘escaped’ back into space after mechanical docking was complete (these were all simulated, of course – but realistically so).

Representatives of GCTC and former cosmonauts observed even gestures of the crew.

Representatives of GCTC and former cosmonauts observed even the smallest gestures of the crews

Despite these surprise malfunctions and many side discussions about usage of the range ruler (which the astros use inside the ISS as a simple way to visually confirm ATV’s approach), KURS accuracy (KURS is the radio measurement system indicating the range rate*) and other rendezvous deeply technical ATV topics swirling within the commission room, the crew carried on – just like they’re supposed to.

The exam concluded flawlessly with the highest attainable grade. Once the debriefing was finished, the entire commission congratulated the crew, cementing their successful exam results as an additional milestone for Expedition 30 / PromISSe mission to soar to Station.

Note*: The range to ATV during docking is also given by KURS – but this is only used by crew when ATV is farther than 100m; closer than 100m, they use the range rulers.

The ATV final exam is part of full sequence of a half-dozen main exams before flight for the prime and backup crew.

Thanks to Lionel Ferra at the European Astronaut Centre for this excellent report.

Editor’s note: Access the full image gallery via Flickr.