Lara Keytel - April 18, 2002: Suitcases and Vodka - An open and shut case
Finally I have had the airport experience I have been looking for, over the last couple of months, well almost. But it was close enough for me…. Andre, one of our two local drivers (I was impressed to notice both had made it though the 6 weeks, since I had been back in Cape town) was actually waiting for me. Such relief, especially after spending a significant amount of time at the lost luggage counter. I won't elaborate on that point much, but to say that at least my luggage was in the country, which could not be said for one of my fellow South African compatriots, who had flown a local Russian airline, and was told that his luggage could be anywhere from Istanbul to Japan, as a result of having flown on the same flight as an organised Japanese tour.
Nonetheless, within a couple of hours I was back at the place we call Star City, in my old haunt called the Orbita hotel. Having spent the weekend sailing a qualifying regatta in Cape Town, to participate in the 2002 World Sailing games, and then immediately jumping onto a plane for a 24hr journey to Star City, I very happily collapsed into a little heap until the following morning.
The 'A' List
Wednesday morning Karen and I walked over to Prophy 1 and on arrival I immediately noticed the large signs on the doors, indicating that Prophy 1 had been declared a quarantine facility for the three cosmonauts about to blast off into space. This had in fact been the status since Monday the 15th April. In order to gain access to the facility, you had to be firstly, on the “A” list, and secondly and more importantly, you had to be screened by the Russian nurse guarding the door. Now imagine your ultimate childhood nightmare, where you are being given an injection by the scariest nurse alive, wielding a needle the size of your grandma’s size 12 knitting needle. Well our nurse was nothing like that, and she gallantly got me through the first round…..which is where the easy access abruptly halted.
On finding Mark it was made very clear that there had been a little problem with people gaining access to the quarantine and the “A” list had been whittled down to 5 people. I would not have access to Mark. Now being a person of sound and rational mind, I made my exit, only to be left wondering how it was that I would manage to collect my pre-flight data on Mark, bearing in mind that Mark was leaving in 2 days for Baikonur, where he would be based for the duration of the time leading up to the flight. Well not to be deterred in any way, I managed to set up my equipment in a part of the building that at least complied with the quarantine restrictions, in full view of my friendly Russian nurse and made my exit.
The Centrifuge A short while later, I joined the “A” group for one of Mark’s final training session’s, the notorious centrifuge. This piece of equipment is housed in a large circular building (called the Centrifuge), and consists of a large mechanical arm, attached at the center of the room. The outside part has what can be described as an old style fully enclosed gondola, wherein the cosmonauts completing the test sit. The large mechanical arm swings around the room, building up to a force of about 1.5 g’s, and then suddenly stops. This test is repeated three times, and measures the tolerance of the cosmonaut to the force, as well as prepares him for the moment when the Soyuz capsule separates from the rocket. Mark handled like a pro, even managing to smile for the camera he knew was relaying information to the control room.
After this it was back to house arrest for me, until the South African team managed to meet up with the rest of the SA journalists and share a friendly drink at Shep's Bar.