Status Report

André Kuipers’ diary – Part 16: Last lessons, final exams and traditions

By SpaceRef Editor
April 16, 2004
Filed under , , ,
André Kuipers’ diary – Part 16: Last lessons, final exams and traditions

25 – 31 March

This week was very important, the final exams! The instructors
test if you are entirely ready before the flight, and if you are completely
familiar with the systems of the Space Station and the Soyuz. It’s a make or
break situation, because if you don’t pass the exams, your flight simply
will not go ahead.

Now that I am ready for the exams it was also time to say goodbye of my
trainers and instructor in Star City. So I had my last lesson from Larissa,
my Russian teacher, who, with a lot of patience, has tried to teach me
Russian. We went through a few last things like the more commonly occurring
expressions and how best to give speeches. I have given her a few crocuses
as a thank-you. It is quite strange to say goodbye to people with whom you
have been working for so long. Perhaps you will never see them again.


At the weekend I spent almost all my time with my head in a book: going
through the procedures in the onboard documentation and highlighting
important points in red which state exactly what button to press at what
time. Everything is well prepared to go into the exams on Monday and
Tuesday. It was just like when I was a student. Studying well into the small
hours. I only got away from it all by joining some ESA and NASA colleagues
at mealtimes. They had prepared meals for me and my back-up, Gerhard Thiele.
We didn’t have to do anything and were looked after very well in order to
give us as much time as possible to prepare.

Monday was the first big exam in the Space Station simulator. For me it was
just like training because my tasks are very clear and well organized. I
worked on the scientific experiments for the DELTA Mission while the
permanent crew carried out maintenance work.

I was able to do the CIRCA/BMI experiment, the blood pressure during mental
stress and specific breathing rhythms. The activities ranged from
establishing all the connections, to the final transfer of data to the
computer. I have also finished the complete timeline for all the biological
experiments with the KUBIK and Aquarius equipment, even the part that is
actually done in the Soyuz. I was completely satisfied with how it went. At
the end there was, of course, another leak in the Space Station to which we
had to respond.


You get the results of such an exam immediately afterwards. You must then
appear before a commission of top officials. The engineers, instructors and
specialists are also there, all the experts together. In the ISS exam
everything went very well.

On Tuesday they were all there again for the exam in the Soyuz simulator –
for me this is the most difficult exam.

As First Engineer, I am jointly responsible for the spacecraft. For this
reason, eighty percent of my training is geared towards emergency procedures
and safety measures. A lot of different procedures were covered in this
exam. In our spacesuits we took our seats in the simulator. The start,
preparation and launch ran according to plan.

Then the problems started. First of all, the radio let us down, so I had to
switch over to the reserve system. One of the angular acceleration meters
also broke down, whereupon it automatically switched over to the second
system. That meant that for the rest of the flight I really had to pay
attention because I was now working all the time with the reserve system.
After that both radar systems broke down which meant that we knew for
certain the commander would have to dock with the Space Station manually.


The docking operation appeared to go well, but the antenna makes first
contact with the Space Station was stuck, which meant that we were unable to
complete the docking. To make matters worse, a fire started in our capsule,
which was not put out by closing down the electrical systems.

We managed to extinguish the fire by letting all the air escape from the
Soyuz. Because of this the mission had to be called off and we had to return
to Earth immediately. Following an emergency procedure we had to separate
and take up the right position.

After that we tried to start an automatic emergency landing programme, the
so-called programme 5. But that also refused to work and so we had to do
everything manually. I had to start up the engine exactly at the right time
to slow down and make the return to Earth.

Then the acceleration meter appeared not to be functioning correctly, and
the computer was unable to work out when the engine was supposed to cut out
again. The fuel consumption was normal and we knew how long the engine had
to burn, so we could shut it down ourselves at the right time. The
separation of the landing capsule from the living quarters and from the
engine compartment of the spacecraft, and the steep, stable re-entry through
the atmosphere went normally.

Then finally we saw to our amazement that the brake forces had increased to
more than 17G! But fortunately it appeared to be a fault in the simulator
computer .

If this exam had been for real, then it was a short mission: just two days.
The training was still more difficult than the exam, and that is precisely
the purpose of the training: that you pass the exams and that the real
flight will be much more straightforward than the training.

After that hard day we emerged from the simulator tired, stiff and sweating
and, after having changed our clothes, we had to appear before the exam
commission and the specialists. The commission could not find fault with
anything in our exam. The entire crew had worked faultlessly. Reason for a

It is tradition that the crew throws a party for the instructors after
successfully passing their exams. We did that with a lot of toasts and a lot
of speeches. There were some emotional moments such as, for example, saying
our goodbyes to the trainers. There are often old-timers in the field. Some
of these people have been training cosmonauts for more then thirty years,
and know so much that they could easily go on a spaceflight themselves.


The day after the exam is, according to Russian tradition, reserved for
official proceedings. First of all, we had to appear before the great
commission in the so-called white hall in the main building.

Routine dictates that the commission discusses the results of the training
and the cosmonauts extend a word of thanks. The floor is then passed to
representatives of just about all the organisations that have anything to do
with the flight, so that they can each declare us ready for the flight.

The radio, TV and printed press can then ask questions. This time the Dutch
press was also present. After that it is customary that we write in the
visitors’ book in the originally arranged room of Yuri Gagarin in the museum
in Star City. After that we left for Moscow.

First we went to the Russian spaceflight organisation. There we met Anatoly
Perminov, the new head of the organisation. He presented us with two

After that on to Red Square, to Kremlin Wall, behind the mausoleum, to lay
flowers at the memorials to the heroes of Russian space travel such as Yuri
Gagarin and Koroljov, the chief design engineer and the brain behind all
firsts in Russian space travel. I laid flowers at the memorials to Vladimir
Komarov and the Salyut-1 crew. These cosmonauts perished during their
flights in the Soyuz in 1967 and 1970. After that, the Soyuz was made much

After a visit to the Kremlin itself and many photos later, we returned to
Star City. It was very quiet in the bus. Everybody was sleeping after a
tiring day and week.

Fortunately in the following days there is almost nothing in the programme.
The crew gets a few days to rest and prepare themselves for the launch in
two weeks time.

SpaceRef staff editor.