|Chapter 1: 'A journey begins with the very first step …'|
This is not my first trip to Star City, Russia. As the Expedition 4 (E4) crew’s “Crew Support Astronaut,” I was able to visit Star City twice in support of Yuri Onufrienko, Carl Walz and Dan Bursch. While a good experience for me in terms of seeing the place and figuring out where to buy candy bars and soft drinks, it was nowhere near (in my mind anyway) what I am experiencing now. You see, during those trips, I was here for only 2-3 weeks (usually two) and did not train with them. I handled various “issues” that were occurring in their launch preparation (there weren’t many … they were soooo good!) so I was not intimately involved in their training flow. Now I am here each time for at least four weeks in a row, sometimes five. We are scheduled for 5-6 trips this year (next year’s schedule is still under development) and that will conclude what NASA designates as a Space Station back-up flow. Then, hopefully at some future date, I may be asked to step up to the plate to train as a prime crewmember, which will mean more trips to Star City. It also will mean that someone else will carry my parachute to the T-38!
Image at left: Clayton Anderson participates in a training session in an International Space Station module mockup at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Credit: NASA
Now it’s the real deal. We have classes every day, five days a week.
Each day contains four periods (one hour and 50 minutes each) with a lunch break from 12:50 to 2 p.m. Classes start at 9 a.m. and end just before 6 p.m. The classes occur in the “territory,” the hallowed ground of Star City, quite similar functionally to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The “territory” is about a 10-minute walk from the dorm-like cottages where we live and is home to the myriad of successes of the Russian space program and their famed cosmonauts.
So far the classes are theoretical in nature with some “praktika (hands-on)” training in their ISS modules; the Service Module (SM) and the Functional Cargo Block (FGB … it’s a G and not a C because the Russian word for cargo starts with a G … are you starting to get the picture on the language thing?). Eventually, I will be required to enter these training mock-ups and show them what I know (or don’t know!). As a matter of fact, I will have an exam (“konsultatziya”) where I am quizzed and must show them where everything is and be able to describe and operate every system in the vehicle! My weeks also include two four-hour sessions of Russian Language training. I am glad that I began to study Russian several years ago when Susan (my wife) worked for NASA’s Shuttle/Mir Program. Hopefully, I have a leg (кога, pronounced “noga”) up on that situation! But man … these folks talk so fast!
This will, quite possibly, be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I miss my family bunches, but I am hoping that my anxiety (yes, some astronauts do worry about stuff!) is mostly the “newness” of the whole situation since things really have happened so fast. I am settling into a routine, which helps immensely. My family is excited with the opportunities before us and son Cole is looking forward to one day being interviewed by the newspapers and TV! My wife is smart, strong and sure and with her patient guidance the kids are poised to understand and share in, the importance of their daddy’s continuing magnificent adventure.
As I toured the “State Tretyakov (Art) Gallery” this weekend (one of my goals in this adventure is to learn about Russia, Moscow and her culture and gifts), I saw a beautiful painting covering nearly an entire wall. Painted by I.N. Kramskoy (1837-1887) and entitled "Christ in the Wilderness,” Jesus was seated on a barren rock formation with his chin softly cradled in his hands. He looked extremely tired, haggard and forlorn. I thought of His 40 days in the wilderness, the difficulties of His life and the choices that were tearing at His heart. My journey didn't seem so hard anymore.