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An Incredible Air and Space Adventure
Written by A. Forrer. (edited by Jane Reifert)  

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Chapter Four - A Hands-On Tour of the Training Center

Mission Control, Star City RussiaThat hurdle taken, we can move to other things and start enjoying the day. Now they gave me the full tour of Star City: Mir simulators, Soyuz, Soyuz-TM and Soyuz-TMA simulators, ISS sims, Buran, the full spiel. An instructor set up Soyuz-TM for manual docking with ISS. My first try was a straight on docking using only the rotational (right) hand controller. That was fairly easy and the ship docked in the first go around. Next was a combination of translational and rotational controllers, so you control six axes simultaneously by looking at the picture on the monitor and scope. Very difficult for newbies I have to say. The reactions of the ship are sluggish and heavy and of course you have to counterbalance Old Newton all the time. At first nothing seems to happen and once you get closer everything takes over in WARP speed. So I crashed three times into ISS (actually twice and one aborted fly by). On the fourth approach I finally managed to dock. Not very elegantly, but the cone shaped adapter leaves some room for error.

It was just time to get out of the seat as Budarin, a real cosmonaut who is going up to ISS in fall entered the sim hall to take over from where I just sat minutes before. He was nice enough to pose for some pictures and signatures and then I get to watch a real pro doing what I just tried.

How easy it looks from that perspective! He not only docks and undocks like we park our car, he also flies around the station to move the craft from one docking port to another. At least my partial success lets me believe, that given enough practice; I could probably handle that myself (not like the jet fighter, there is no hope for me).

After I get to watch a crew of three practice with Soyuz-TM. To keep it cool in their Sokol suits, they let the hatch open. I even get away with snatching some pictures, hehehe.

Lunch is yet again in the 'cosmonaut cafeteria' and delicious as always. At the table next to ours sits the first German astronaut/cosmonaut, S. Jaehn and my hosts arrange for a meeting. He was quite surprised to hear this American switch to German and we had a nice conversation. Turns out he was the guide for two German tourists who won a trip to Star City in a contest (must be a popular prize in Europe).

Cosmoanut Training; Space AdventuresThen Valentina Zakcharova, the supervisor of the local Gagarin museum, takes me on an individual tour through the holy rooms including Yuri's former office, where nothing has been changed since his crash. At first she is disappointed to have only one guest, but once she realizes, that she is dealing with a supafan, she is ok with it and at the end we swap emails and addresses for future contact. Eventually she would hand me secretly a bunch of signed cachets. It's great to have friends in these positions!

Last we visit the Hydrolab, the Russian equivalent of Houston's Neutral Buoyancy lab. As we enter we watch Bowersox and Thomas practicing general mobility around the Svezda module. This gives me an idea of what I'll be up against the next day and the thought makes me really anxious. Oh well, that'll be another day. For now I'm just thrilled watching these guys: In the Hydrolab visitors can actually see them through windows in the tank, whereas at the NBL all you see are bubbles coming to the surface of the water. So even taking underwater pictures is possible. Do I love these Russians? You bet!

Then it is time to go back to the hotel and relax. As usual on the way home I take my notes of all the things I saw and learned during the day. My head feels like a sponge; it is amazing the amount of information one gets when actually on site as opposed to go by hear say. E.g. now I have seen Gagarin's original watch from his flight I can safely declare my 'original' copy of his watch as a primitive fake. Along with all the other imitations I have seen around Moscow since my arrival...

<< Back - Next: The Hydrolab >>

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