A day for travelling

I didn’t sleep too well last night, partly nerves about getting everything done in time, partly excitement at the idea of seeing granny today. Also, I had a quiet, but quite intense moment thinking about my friend Chris.

Sorry, I mean, commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and all round talented guy. He’s also going on a special journey today, but unlike me, he’ll be travelling by rocket, and not train.

Probably around the same time I got up and dressed this morning he will have been getting fitted into his space suit. As I was checking I’d got everything I needed for my brief visit to see Granny, he’ll have been doing his own checks. Of his suit, of his equipment, of his special items like the wedding ring he’s taking up for his wife.

I’m on the London underground heading to my “launch pad” (sounds so much better than train terminus), he’ll be on the way to his. Except it’s the real deal for Chris. His trusty Russian Soyuz rocket waiting to blast then away from the Earthly confines of gravity, into orbit where although he won’t have escaped gravity altogether, the constant state of freefall around the planet will allow him to ‘float’.

Actually, despite a speedy eight minutes to orbit, it’ll be a few days before he gets to fully enjoy microgravity. You see, the Soyuz capsule he’ll be travelling in, with fellow spacefliers from the US and Russia, well, it’s kind of tiny. During launch they’re strapped into “seats” reminiscent of small Victorian tin baths, specially moulded to fit their shape. Once in orbit they still have a few days before the manage to chase and catch up with the International Space Station.

Just think about that for a moment. The ISS is whizzing round the Earth at around 17,500mph. That’s fast. Now imagine you want to dock with it. You’ll need some decent maths skills to work out when to fling yourself into space in order to meet up with it (and not crash into it – which would be really bad!).

That’s what Chris will be doing. Heading up into orbit, then chasing the space station, approaching it and then finally docking with what will become home for the next five months.

My train to Brighton leaves just six minutes before Chris’s launch. I’ll be glued to my mobile phone in much the same way I imagine he’ll be glued to the instruments and checklists during launch. I really hope the 3G signal will hold out enough that I can watch him successfully leave Earth.

I can’t lie, I’ll be terrified. No matter how much training he’s had, no matter how reliable Soyuz rockets are, no matter that given the chance I’d be in his shoes like a shot, there’s still something immense and overwhelming about seeing someone you care about on top of a rocket. I’m proud, I’m excited, of course a little jealous(!), but I’ll be a lot happier when I see their mascot floating in microgravity and I know they’re in orbit.

Then I can relax and get back to wrapping those last few presents for Granny and looking forward to telling her that once again she can boast that she has a friend in space.

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