It's coming up to 6 in the evening in Kazahstan and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and the rest of the Expedition 34 crew are aboard their Soyuz spacecraft ready to countdown the last quarter-hour before they blast into space en route to the International Space Station.
The 53-year-old Hadfield is travelling on the two-day journey with NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko are inside their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft for their launch to the International Space Station. Their two-day journey to the station will begin with a 7:12 a.m. EST liftoff.
Hadfield will have no trouble at all talking in Russian with his fellow astronauts or the crew on the ground at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.. He's fluent, a skill learned in the years after he stopping being a Canadian Forces fighter pilot intercepting Soviet aircraft and began building bridges between the U.S. and russian space programs. The Star's Joe Hall reports he helped his former foes instal a portal on the old Soviet Mir space station.
All of the suit leak checks are completed, NASA reports on its live stream TV of the launch. There are no issues and the liftoff is still on schedule. In the background, the broadcast is playing, "Here Comes the Sun." That music is being pumped into the capsule.
You don't want any more music, do you? a Russian base station crew member asks the astronauts in English. No? Okay.
The sun is setting in the Kazahkstan desert and its minus 30 Farenheit with the wind chill, NASA says
On board the space station itself, the three crew members are watching the operation that will bring them their new commander and the first Canadian to be in charge of the international craft. They're pretty casual: shorts and socks and zero gravity floating.
Everything is well on board and we are ready, the base station crew member says. Good luck to you and we will talk to you again when you dock. That will be Friday.
With all the incredible technology, the three astronauts crammed like puppies in a basket are using a clipboard and a piece of paper for their final checklist. The launch key is inserted in the launch bunker. The Russians use a real launch key, NASA says. The Russians are the only ones still providing craft to send astronauts to the ISS
The booster tank is being optimized for flight. Pressurization confirmed. Under two minutes to launch.
The ground propellant feed to the rocket has been closed down.
One minute to launch. Rocket on internal power. Preparing for auto-sequence start.. It looks cold on that Kazahkstan desert. The ladders are detached. Rockets FIRE!
It's a blur of white and yellow light into the darkening sky. From the ground, it looks like a five-point star.
For the first two minutes and thirty seconds, the craft will burn liquid fuel. 60 seconds into flight. Everything is nominal, in the laconic words of aerospace people
The launch escape tower has been jetisoned from the craft. The boosters are separating and drop away
This is Hadfield's third journey into space. He's 48 miles high, NASA says
The crew are smiling and waving.
Hadfield will be away from earth for five months
A single engine is now propelling to Soyuz craft beyond the atomosphere. Astronauts are busy checking off things from their "to do" list with a pen. Every once in a while, Hadfield gives the thumbs up with a gloved hand
At seven minutes, the crew reports everything is performing well, without a hitch.
Confirmation of third stage separation. Each of the anntennaes on the craft are deployed. "Craft safely in orbit," NASA reports.
Ground control and observation of the Soyuz craft has been transferred to the Russian Space centre outside Moscow.
Whoops. Hadfield lost his grip on his pen and it's floating around the capsule now as they\lose gravity. Not far to go, though. He's snared it back and he's back to writing and checking and turning pages on that ring binder (not a clipboard).
We are on page 50, the Russian Flight Control Centre tells them.
Congratulations on the launch, she tells the astronauts from the Cosmodrome. "It's nice to know everything is well telemetry-wise."
Hadfield is counting off the data in front of him one by one and marking it down on his page. He looks like an interstellar school teacher. The Russian, Roman Romanenko, wisely clutches his pen between his calves so it doesn't waft around the capsule
NASA says the Soyuz capsule is scheduled to dock at the ISS at 9:12 a.m. Eastern time. Considering the Russian Flight Centre got the flight launch right to the second, that's probably a safe bet.
The live stream into the capsule has been cut off and the three astronauts know they no longer have the eyes of the world on their every movement as they go about the carefully planned and rehearsed technical details of space flight.
Hadfield's last trip to the International Space Station was almost 12 years ago, in April 2001, on board the space shuttle Endeavour.. He helped instal the Canadarm 2, Canada's contribution to the cosmic community.
Expedition 34 will be a six-member crew until March when the three astronauts there now return home inside a different Soyuz spacecraft and Hadfield takes command. He, Marshburn and Romanenko are scheduled to return to earth in May.
Chris Hadfield, now nearly an hour into his latest and biggest space adventure, grew up on a corn farm in southern Ontario and won a glider pilot scholarship at age 15.
He joined the Canadian Armed forces in May, 1978, a year after he graduated as an Ontario Scholar from Milton District High School.
He's made a lifelong habit out of being the top of his class at everything.
Just some of his achievements: B.A. in mechanical engineering with honours in 1982.
Top graduate from basic jet training in Moose Jaw.
Top pilot graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.
Member of the Order of Ontario.
Selected from a field of 5,330 applicants to be one of four Canadian astronauts.
Director of Operations for NASA at the Uri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia.
In all, has flown 90 different types of aircraft.
Married to Helen Walter, three grown children.
His parents live near Milton.
In a pre-flight interview with NASA in Houston. Texas, Hadfield described how the cosmos captured his imagination, growing up in the 60s in southern Ontario: "I had a National Geographic big picture of the moon above my bed on the wall. As a kid growing up, it didn’t matter where you were, whether you were in Malaysia or Canada or here in Houston, this is a pretty exciting thing."
Hadfield describes making a boyhood dream a reality: "On July 20, 1969, like so many other people, I sat and looked at a bad, grainy little television and watched those first steps on the moon and thought, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.
I’m going to grow up to be something, why don’t I grow up to be that?
But then when I look around I’m thinking, I’m a 9 year old kid and I’m a Canadian, what are my odds? Not very good.
But I thought, well, up until yesterday people couldn’t even go and walk on the moon and now they can, so maybe I can, too. I started getting ready that night. What do I need to do?
I need to learn to fly and to scuba dive and to stay in shape and other languages and study in university and all of those things. To become an engineer, a fighter pilot, a test pilot and all of that, which was fun and fascinating, but also all to help maybe in the lifelong dream of having a chance to be an astronaut and to follow in the footsteps of Buzz and Neil.
Amazingly enough it worked.
In his NASA interview, Hadfield sums up how he got from there to here: "I think, if you want to grow up to be an astronaut, growing up as a kid in southern Ontario is a pretty good place to come from. "
A career as a test pilot, in which he saw fellow pilots die as they pushed the machines into new challenges, showed Hadfield the risks and rewards of his high-stakes life.
He tells NASA: "I’m going to fly a Russian spaceship as the left-seater, sort of like the co-pilot and then live on a space station for six months and we might die in the effort but I might die driving home from work tonight.
"I’m going to manage things as best I can so that I live a long and healthy life, but a long, healthy and worthwhile life. "
Hadfield will be away from his family at Christmas, which is usually the one holiday when the far-flung family can get together.
This year, he says in his NASA interview, Christmas was early in Kazakhstan.
One son came from China, one son from Germany and his daughter from Ireland.
"It’s an understood part of the job," he says. "This is a very special year for us as a family and everyone understands that it’s not going to be normal ... a year to talk about for the rest of our lives."
As Chris Hadfield, Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko settle in for their flight to the International Space Station, we'll sign off and be back Friday morning for their docking at the 109 metre platform.
The flight centre in Kazahkstan is acting as air traffic control to guide the Soyuz in.
Just as it did two days ago, "everything looks nominal," the flight centre tells the three astronauts. The automatic docking mechanism is aligning with the earth-facing port, NASA reports.
A surreal picture of green bars flickers as the screen shows the ISS pulling ever closer. Just seven metres separate the two vehicles.