Home' Technology Review : January February 2009 Contents ORAL HISTORY
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW JANUARY/ FEBRUARY
Olsen: Here's the reason: on the Soyuz capsule, there's a facility
for a bowel movement, but you really don't want to make a
bowel movement on it. Imagine using a teapot to make a bowel
movement. All right?
Shuttleworth: The most di cult period for me was the day
before launch, because until that point it's just a complete
whirlwind of activity. But during that final stretch, you have
nothing to do but ponder. I remember going for a bit of a stroll
when my phone rang. Very few people know that number. And I
thought, "Wow. It's amazing how the universe works! I'm think-
ing about these di cult issues, and a member of my family or a
close friend is calling!" I answered, and it was a wrong number.
A lad from Africa had called. It was pretty funny: "No help there,
mate. You've got to do this one on your own."
Garriott: Space travel is not the safest of all pastimes. But if
you are going to fly, I like the Soyuz. If you look at the space
shuttle, with two failures out of 150 launches or so, those are
actually not great odds.
Shuttleworth: Soyuz failed early in the program and then had
a safe run in, like, the last 30 or so flights.
Simonyi: Four people have died on the Soyuz. But in some
sense their loss made the craft even safer.
Shuttleworth: I wouldn't say that the Soyuz program is getting
safer and safer just because they have a flawless record over
the last 20 years. I just didn't want the last thing that I thought
when I got hit by a bus to be, "Damn, I should have gone."
The trip to the International Space Station begins with a bus ride
to the launchpad and an elevator ride to a Soyuz capsule atop a
Russian rocket the height of a 16-story building. There are ritu-
als and customs that accompany every aspect of spaceflight, but
never so many as on the day of a Russian launch.
Garriott: The Russians are a superstitious lot.
Olsen: A lot of traditions come from Yuri Gagarin [the first
human in space]. When he was going out to the launch, he
had to take a leak. They just didn't make any provisions for
it. He said, "Stop the bus." He got o the bus and peed on the
rear tire, and ever since then, that's mandatory.
Ansari: Fortunately, I found a way to excuse myself. I asked
our commander [Mikhail Tyurin], "Can you just think of me
while doing your business on the tire?" He said, "Of course I
will do that for you, Anousheh. Anything."
Shuttleworth: You know, it took me a little while to go to the loo
then. And people were teasing me, you know, about standing
around and waving my willy at the girls in Kazakhstan.
Simonyi: It's a wonderful tradition. A great way to relax.
Ansari: Before the flight I was worried I would be a nervous
wreck. I had told my flight surgeon, "If you see my blood pres-
sure or my heart rate is high, don't let them stop the flight!"
Olsen: Even walking out to the launchpad, we had all of these
Garriott: You're walking to this fully fueled rocket, full of kerosene
and oxygen. The thing is so cold it's covered with white frost. The
air that's near it is coming streaming down the sides because it's
cooler and denser. It's very clear that you are stepping into some-
thing that is on the edge, so to speak. And you climb on board.
Ansari: I was told that Greg Olsen was very calm.
Olsen: I had the lowest heart rate of any of us. Sixty beats per
minute on launch.
Shuttleworth: He's telling that to everybody.
Ansari: I had to practice meditation, all sorts of things, to bring
my pulse down.
Simonyi: Being in the Soyuz before launch is the greatest. You
feel so centered, so comfortable. There's this nice humming
noise. It smells fantastic. And you have plenty of time. The
whole point, I think, is that there's no hurry. There's no pres-
sure. They have these two words. One of them is normalna,
which means "normal." The other one is spakoyna, which is like
"easy" or "quiet." These are the chief words during that time.
Ansari: You sit there and you're like, "Oh my God, I'm finally
here!" It's a surreal situation. You're like, "I'm actually sitting
on top of a rocket. In a few minutes it will ignite, and I will be
sent o with these amazing speeds into space." For someone
who is a civilian, it's, like, unbelievable.
Simonyi: So you are there and they say, "You guys, we have
about 30 minutes, and you have nothing to do. Do you want to
listen to some music?" I said, "Sure." And so they were playing
Abba's "Money, Money, Money," which I didn't recognize at
first, but the other cosmonauts recognized it right away, and
they were kind of nudging me. Yeah, everybody had a laugh.
Garriott: I would have called ours elevator music. Immediately
what struck me is, "Here we are in the elevator to the heavens---
listening to elevator music."
Olsen: If I could have had music? "Ride of the Valkyries."
Simonyi: In your hand is this checklist that is prepared on Micro-
soft Word and printed on a normal laser printer. It's nothing
special. It's just this checklist held together by three rings. You
basicallyjust hear the checklist on the radio. All the commander
does is look at the indications and reports, but the ground has
the same indications. There are no activities for the crew.
Shuttleworth: It's a bit dull, to be honest. You're on a live mike,
so you really don't want to be chattering away.
Garriott: I settled in the chair and took a nap. There is noth-
ing happening during that 40-minute window. You are in this
adrenaline lull. Then the radio comes back on, says "We are
five minutes from launch," and stu starts happening.
Olsen: Everything has a procedure when you take o . Step 1,
Step 2, Step 3. And they follow it, one by one.
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