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“Launch minus 1 day and counting…?”
 
June 2007

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When I last penned a journal chapter, it discussed what life on the International Space Station (ISS) might be like. Well, in just a few days, I should get my first real taste of life in outer space. As I am typing this chapter, launch is only 2 days away! However, a lot has happened since my last journal entry. What has been twenty-some odd chapters about my training is about to turn into chapters about the ‘real deal.’ How cool is that????

I am prepped to launch soon on STS-117 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. About a month or so ago, the Space Shuttle and Station Programs decided they needed a bit of flexibility that could be achieved if they moved me to an earlier flight. This would allow them to bring Sunita “Suni” Williams home a bit earlier than planned. So, for the past 5 or 6 weeks, my life has been a whirlwind of activity. While finishing my Station training requirements, I was also continuing to train with STS-118 (they will be joining me on orbit in August and I will still do my planned spacewalks with them) while at the same time trying to find time to jump into training with the STS-117 crew. Whew, what a mess!

Now here I am at the Astronaut Crew Quarters (ACQ) Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As a crew, we are in quarantine…isolated from much of the outside world. You see, they don’t want any of us getting sick before we go. All visitors must have a physical examination before they are allowed anywhere close to us. It is not a bad situation until I think about my kids. You see, because of their ages, it makes them ineligible for these “clearance” physicals. That means I can’t hug them, kiss them or even shake their hands…until I return home next November. Some of our goodbyes had to be said almost a week ago. These are the sacrifices that sometimes seem so hard for me to make. The children understand; but it doesn’t really make it easier on me!

In quarantine we have relaxed, studied, exercised, dined and just gotten to know one another better. This is an important time for me personally, since I haven’t really trained much with the 117 crew. They have been working together as a crew for over a year now, and are humming along like a “well-oiled machine.” Three of the crew, Swanson, Archambault and Olivas, are classmates of mine…the Astronaut Class of 1998, designated as the 17th class of astronauts (kind of prophetic, don’t you think?). At the time we became nicknamed the Penguins…all dressed up but nowhere to go. We have trained and worked for 9 years and are now at the culmination of our labors. We certainly have somewhere to go now!

Enjoy the ride…and stay tuned!