1034516-Joe-Acaba

The ini­tial goal of approx­i­mate­ly 2.5 years of train­ing is final­ly com­ing to fruition. I am cur­rent­ly in Baikonur, Kaza­khstan per­form­ing final prepa­ra­tions for my May 15 Soyuz launch to the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion (ISS) where I will be spend­ing 4 months liv­ing and work­ing in space. My crew mates are cos­mo­nauts Gen­nady Padal­ka, a vet­er­an space fly­er dat­ing back to the Mir Space Sta­tion and Sergey Revin, a rook­ie. I am lucky to serve with these gen­tle­men, not only as col­leagues but as friends. When we arrive, we will be greet­ed by Amer­i­can Astro­naut Don Pet­tit, Dutch Astro­naut Andre Kuipers and Russ­ian Cos­mo­naut Oleg Kononenko (ISS Expe­di­tion 31). Once they depart in ear­ly July, we will be joined by Astro­naut Suni Williams, Japan­ese Astro­naut Aki Hoshide and Russ­ian Cos­mo­naut Yuri Malenchenko (ISS Expe­di­tion 32).

Due to the facts that I will be launch­ing on a Russ­ian vehi­cle and the true inter­na­tion­al nature of the Space Sta­tion, my train­ing has tak­en me to Rus­sia, Cana­da, Japan and Ger­many. All of my US, Cana­da, Japan and Ger­many train­ing was com­plet­ed by the first week of April. On April 8, I arrived in Star City, Rus­sia to com­plete the final train­ing and exam­i­na­tions on the Russ­ian seg­ments of the ISS and the Soyuz space­craft. These exten­sive exams took place over a 2-day peri­od and are an impor­tant mile­stone on our path to launch. We worked well as a crew, passed our exams and showed that we are ready to embark on this jour­ney. After final exams, we were giv­en a few days of crew rest. This is a crit­i­cal time to not only rest the body, but to get things in order before you leave the plan­et in order to put your mind at rest. On May 2, we had the tra­di­tion­al farewell break­fast in Star City before we board­ed our plane to Baikonur.

Why do we arrive in Baikonur 2 weeks before launch? There are many final prepa­ra­tions that need to be done and you want to do them at a pace where the crew can be assured to launch well rest­ed.

Our sec­ond day in Baikonur was very impor­tant and one of my favorites, of course not includ­ing launch day. This was our first oppor­tu­ni­ty to get in our actu­al vehi­cle, both in reg­u­lar flight suits and our Sokol space suits. Just as I expe­ri­enced with my shut­tle flight in 2009, no mat­ter how good a train­ing mod­el is, there is no sub­sti­tute for being in the real deal. It was also an oppor­tu­ni­ty to “leak test” our space suits one more time before the day of launch, in which we will do our final leak check. If any off nom­i­nal event was to occur, these suits are our first line of defense. In a few days, we will do our final vis­it to the vehi­cle once it is ful­ly packed. In the mean­time, we have var­i­ous class­es and brief­in­gs, we review flight pro­ce­dures and remain in a quar­an­tine sta­tus. Fam­i­ly and friends that are com­ing out for launch will arrive in a few days. Even though it will be in a very con­trolled envi­ron­ment, it will be great to see them. From my fam­i­ly, it will be my mom, dad and sis­ter.

I feel very priv­i­leged to have this oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­tribute to our col­lec­tive explo­ration of space. While the astro­nauts and cos­mo­nauts are the most vis­i­ble mem­bers, we are the small­est of a tru­ly mon­u­men­tal team that con­sists of train­ers, flight con­trol teams, engi­neers, tech­ni­cians, sci­en­tists and doc­tors, to name a few. The sci­ence being con­duct­ed aboard the ISS could not be done with­out the efforts of each per­son involved. I thank you for all of your hard work and ded­i­ca­tion to an inter­na­tion­al space pro­gram. I would also like to thank every­one read­ing this for your sup­port. I tru­ly believe the work we are doing does and will con­tin­ue to have con­crete ben­e­fits.