Wow, wow, wow! It’s 22:00 here on the International Space Station (we’re on GMT time), I’m approaching the end of my first day in space and I cannot even begin to describe the experience of the past 30 hours or so. Really, I don’t know.
Saying good bye to my family, suiting up for launch, getting to the launch pad, riding up the elevator, strapping in… and then the launch, this wild ride to orbit and then an abrupt engine cutoff and feeling my body wanting to float off my seat. And the first glimpses of Earth: my first sunrise, the stars. My first sight of the ISS as we approached (more to that later) and then floating through the hatch into the warm embraces of Sasha, Elena and Butch.
The first clumsy attempts at “flying” , having our first meal, Butch giving us the toilet brief, Terry calling me to watch a sunrise from the Cupola.. and so many more impressions. It will take my brain days to process it all and I promise I will share as much as I can!
For now, I will tell you of one moment, which was so fortunate and unexpected. You know, when you fly to the Space Station in the Soyuz, unless you are the Commander sitting in the center seat, you can only see your destination from far away in the black and white camera view (the same image that is transmitted to Mission Control and usually shown during media coverage of docking). As a left-or right seater, you only have a side view and there’s no way to see the Station until you’re really close and parts of it start coming in your field of you. Before the flight, previous Soyuz fliers had reminded me to start looking for the Space Station in the side window in the last part of the approach and so I did: but I wasn’t prepared in the least for what I saw when we were at about 30-40 meters.
I had released my shoulder straps quite a bit at that point, so I was floating over my seat. As I turned to look outside, at first I looked back and saw one of our Soyuz solar panels, which I had seen before of course. Then my eyes caught something in the peripheral view. And as I slowly turned my gaze and when I realized what I was seeing, I was overcome by pure amazement and joy: the Space Station was there, but not just any view. The huge solar panels were flooded in a blaze of orange light, vivid, warm almost alien. I couldn’t help exclaiming something aloud, which you can probably hear in the recordings of our docking, since at that point we were “hot mic” with Mission Control. Anton reminded me of that and so I tried to contain my amazement and return to the docking monitoring. When I peaked again later, the orange glow was gone.
Butch told me later that he had heard my amazement on com when “the Station had turned orange.” I didn’t know, but apparently there’s only a few seconds during day-night transition that the Station is lit by that amazing orange glow. And it happened to be exactly when I peaked outside! I feel very fortunate that I had such a unique first glimpse of our human outpost in space: such a great welcome!
Which was only trumped, by the way, by the amazing welcome our veteran crewmates Sasha, Elena and Butch prepared for us!
Immediately after our arrival they took us to the Service Module to say hello to our friends and relatives in Baikonur and as soon as we have a few minutes break in the cm coverage they started to “ set the table” with all the food they had already warmed for us!