Status Report

André Kuipers’ diary – Part 14: Shep’s Bar, tips and results of medical

By SpaceRef Editor
March 26, 2004
Filed under , ,
André Kuipers’ diary – Part 14: Shep’s Bar, tips and results of medical

11 – 17 March

Here at Star City, the seventieth birthday of Yuri Gagarin
last Thursday was naturally accompanied by enthusiastic celebrations.

First, flowers were laid at the statue of the greatest Russian hero in the
history of space travel. Then there was a spectacular show with all kinds of

After that, cosmonauts past and present gathered for a buffet with lots of
vodka and delicious snacks. I had a chat with Aleksei Leonov. In 1965 he
became to first man to go on a spacewalk, and he still follows events in
spaceflight from the sidelines. We spoke briefly about my flight and he has
complete confidence that it will go well. For the rest, we mainly talked
about the paintings he does on the theme of space travel.


After the gathering, I still had a couple of training sessions to do. I also
went langlauf skiing for the last time, on this occasion with my fellow
crewman, Mike Fincke. It is starting to thaw here at Star City, so the skis
can go back in the cupboard for the time being. On Friday, I went out for a
meal with two friends from the Netherlands who are visiting. We did not go
to Moscow, but instead to a small restaurant on the way to Moscow. This was
because I had been kindly requested not to go into the city for security
reasons. It was Election Day here, and you never know what might happen.

Mike was the centre of attention this weekend. It was his 37th birthday. We
joined a lot of people from NASA and a number of Europeans and Russians on
Saturday evening at Shep’s Bar. This bar is in the cellar of one of the
American cottages here at Star City. The astronaut Bill Shepherd, who was
the first commander of the International Space Station, set up the bar when
he was training here. There are benches, a margarita mixer, a jukebox and a
piano; the walls are covered with photographs and astronauts’ signatures
cover the bar. You can play table tennis or billiards, and if you crawl
through a hole in the wall you find yourself in the gym!


Of course, there are no bar staff; if you want anything, you just take it
from the fridge. Otherwise, it is quite like a friendly pub. I go there now
and again, if there is a good film on, for example, or if there are special
celebrations on one of the public holidays. Last Halloween, they had a theme
party there: the men dressed up as women and the women dressed up as men. I
wore an enormous blonde wig. The theme resulted in all kinds of comical

My colleagues, Pedro Duque and Frank De Winne, came over on Monday and
Tuesday. We talked at length about their missions last year and two years
ago. I gained a lot of useful tips from our conversations. For example, I
need to take a ‘bum bag’ with me to store compact flash cards from the
cameras; I will sleep best in the Soyuz with my legs towards the docking
entrance; and that I should make the most of the time during the first two
days to look out the window, after that time will be limited. Actually, that
is something that I should not do too much. Pedro told me that he had got
slightly sunburned during his flight; the sunlight is much more intense
because the ultraviolet light is not filtered by the Earth’s atmosphere.


The stars are best seen from the Soyuz or the Pirs airlock in the Space
Station because you can turn off all the lights in these. In addition, they
both told me that the landing, especially, will be quite an experience. You
hear a few big bangs as the various parts detach during re-entry. There are
another couple of shocks when the parachutes open and, of course, when you
hit the ground. The worst things about it, they tell me, are the huge
oscillations under the parachutes and the uncomfortable position if the
capsule comes to rest on its side.

On Tuesday, the results of my medical check-up arrived – an important
moment. All kinds of specialists looked through the documentation one more
time and wanted to make some final checks. An orthopaedic surgeon had
another good look at my back. After all, I am quite tall for the Soyuz and
he wanted to make sure that I would not have any problems. After that, I met
with an official committee, who told me that the results were fine. I am
physically and mentally fit, so I can fly. It is certainly nice to hear


Over the past few days, a film crew has been accompanying us to make a
documentary. They wanted to shoot a lot of background material and conduct
interviews in all kinds of places, such as when we were doing sporting
activities or holding a press conference. It is a nuisance, having a camera
under your nose the whole time, but I expect it will be worth the trouble.
The documentary is supposed to tell viewers about one of the experiments and
my life as we prepare for the flight.

On Tuesday evening, after receiving detailed instructions from ESA
colleagues about the numerous interviews and press conferences that I will
have to give on board the Space Station – for example, a TV appearance every
morning – I prepared for the final training exercises. These took place the
next day in the centrifuge and in the Soyuz simulator. For the last time and
as a complete crew, we ran through the landing procedures. The next time we
do it will be under exam conditions. All very nerve wracking, but I am
confident of passing. The real examination, of course, will take place in
four weeks time when I make my own journey into space.

SpaceRef staff editor.