Categories: world

How a Flight Delay Sparked Diplomatic Hiccups for VIP Plan to Watch the Soyuz Rocket Launch

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan &#821 1; Waking me from a feverish rush, I stepped out of my flight chair. While Canadian…


1; Waking me from a feverish rush, I stepped out of my flight chair. While Canadian journalist Sean Costello noticed that I was awake. “I hope you feel better, Elizabeth. It will be interesting.”

Thus, several hours of diplomatic negotiations began as our plan – packed with about 60 VIP members, journalists and astronaut families to watch the launch of the Expedition 58 crew on a Soyuz rocket here – experienced a forced detour that is extremely rare for these ferocious flights. A Russian Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch three members of the International Space Station crew in circulation on December 3rd.

The flight track came after a cascade of trouble. Our departure from Moscow was delayed by two hours by some technical issue. In the air, the charter airline discovered that our 757-200 aircraft could not reach Baikonur’s airport before the nightfall. (All Soyuz launches flights from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.) Usually dark is not big for aircraft, but Baikonur’s path is not equipped with light. [Read about Elizabeth Howell’s travels to the Baikonur launch here]

So halfway through our 3.5 hour trip, our flight to Kazakhstan returned to Russian land and we arrived in Samara, a city about 1 000 km northeast of Moscow. Meanwhile I fought with flu or cold in an airplane that could not be relieved due to visa complications.

We never had any real sense of concern. Among the guests in this planet was NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier, one of the highest human space aviation officials at the agency – and a trusted negotiator with the Russian space organization. Several NASA staff with diplomatic privileges were also on board, which gave our flight a piece of a hotline to the authorities to find out what they would do.

Diplomacy was necessary because most people in this planet had double-viewing visas. This way, you can visit Russia, leave the country and return once within a certain time. (In my case it was 90 days.)

If we aboard Samara we would burn our other posts in the Russian Federation at a border crossing and miss the chance to go to Kazakhstan altogether. So NASA – like NASA – quickly came across the planet’s intercom to advise us that they were working.

Our three choices, as they saw, were these: landing in the military zone of Baikonur (a zone normally forbidden for civilian aircraft) to receive special exemption for staying in Samara at the airport or flying to another city in Kazakhstan and the bus to Baikonur.

With nothing to do but wait, the atmosphere became more festive as the flight crew left out drinks. I slept with my symptoms, with doctors from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, who often check my health. Between catnaps I saw VIPs mixed with reporters and at one time, Canadian astronaut Josh Kutryk came to our area to chat with an official from CSA. Passengers made phone calls, shared phones to make sure everyone could reach who they needed.

The Canadian astronauts David Saint-Jacque’s three little children played in the hallways, with the two elderly who appeared in astronauts. A few TV reporters filmed their enchantments like Saint Jacques wife Veronique Morin, keeping an eye on the children. The daylight turned to darkness and the evening meal came and went.

We received frequent updates, water and (in some cases) some food. After 2 hours, they worked diplomatic negotiations – we had to fly to Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan and take a 3-hour bus ride to Baikonur, arriving only 2 hours before the planned rocket rollout.

Our plan landed without further incident and, from this writing, the media has arrived at Seven Winds hotels and is preparing to lead to the rocket eruption. Rocket rollout is scheduled for 7:00 on December 1 local time (8:00 AM EST 30 November or 1:00 GMT 1 December). If everything goes to plan, the lift will take place on December 3rd.

This trip to ISS is the first since a dramatic break during the expedition 57 launch on October 11th. Russian space officials traced the problem to a deformed sensor, allowing the expedition 58 to be launched to continue.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Original article on

Published by