28 Sep / Cleared For Liftoff!
After a lazy Monday, Tuesday began our major round of symbolic activities in Moscow. We began in the White Hall of the government’s administration building, where we were re-introduced and our training reviewed along with our testing scores. Then we were formally cleared for flight!
Next stop: Gagarin’s former office in the “Cosmonaut House,” where we were invited to sign a logbook reserved for cosmonauts about to fly. Nik and I ate lunch in the general’s mess hall before the whole group of prime and backup crews was whisked off to Red Square. Here we were allowed behind the usually roped-off area behind Lenin’s Tomb to lay flowers at the grave sites of Gagarin, Korolev, and other cosmonauts who are buried here.
We were then ushered in through the VIP entrance in the Kremlin wall to tour the Kremlin, its churches, and to visit a tree planted by Gagarin two days after his historic flight into space. Oddly, I expected to find a small tree, but of course instead found a mighty oak! We hugged the tree for good luck and I took a couple of leaves—perhaps I will take one with me to the ISS.
Finally we stopped off at Roskosmos, the head organization of the Russian Space Agency. At a tea ceremony, Mike Fincke offered me a touching compliment when speaking to Perminov, the head of the agency, saying something like, “Richard is the most professional private flyer we have worked with to date.” Mike also noted by the end of the day that our Beef and Pie video crew has had better access and filmed more detail of the space-training program and preparations than he has ever seen in his many years in Russia.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday … REST! My one main accomplishment was to go out and buy some fishing line so I could join the numerous retired folks with a line in the lake—and just like them, I got nary a nibble! I was visited by dragonflies, plus watched a team try to herd the swans off the lake for the winter—unsuccessfully it appears, as two days later they are all still out there as best I can tell!
Saturday I went into Moscow to sneak in yet another “last good meal,” followed by my final early-morning medical check today, Sunday. Seems like I have a slight sore throat, so they put me on a round of antibiotics just in case. As I write this, I am now doing my final packing prior to heading south to the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Incredibly, in what has been an amazing year to date, my training at GCTC has come to an end. Tomorrow morning we leave for Baikonur. I am already almost feeling sad that this incredible adventure is so close to being over. Most people rush off after they get back from space, but I have arranged to keep my room at Star City for a few weeks so that I can decompress a little before diving straight back into my pre-mission life. I think that will feel better.
I will attempt to write from Baikonur, but that may prove difficult. If so, the next written blog you may read from me will be post-flight at the end of October. I hope you have enjoyed joining me on my journey to space. I have certainly enjoyed sharing it with you (not to mention, I am glad to have had the chance to record these thoughts for myself as well).
So all that remains is to fly. As Yuri said before the ignition of his rocket, “Let’s Go!”