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How a flight delay triggered diplomatic hiccups for VIP aircraft to watch the launch of the Soyuz rocket



  How a flight delay caused diplomatic hiccups for a VIP plane in the direction of the Soyuz rocket launch

View of a Soyuz launch that brought three new crew members to the International Space Station on June 6, 2018.

Credit: NASA / Joel Kowsky

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan ̵

1; After a feverish nap, I woke up carefully from my plane seat. Canadian journalist Sean Costello noticed that I was awake. "I hope you feel better, Elizabeth, it will be interesting."

Thus began several hours of diplomatic negotiation while our plane was traveling with some 60 VIPs, journalists and members of an astronaut family to see the launch of the Expedition 58 crew on a Soyuz rocket – experiencing one of these charter flights extremely rare Detour. A Russian Soyuz rocket is due to launch three crew members of the International Space Station into orbit on December 3.

The flight detour came after a cascade of problems. Our flight from Moscow was delayed by two hours due to technical problems. When the charter airline was in the air, their aircraft 757-200 was not reached before dark. (All Soyuz launches fly from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.) Normally darkness is not a big deal for airplanes, but the Baikonur airstrip is not equipped with light. [Read about Elizabeth Howell’s travels to the Baikonur launch here]

Halfway through our 3.5-hour journey, our flight back to Kazakhstan became a return to Russian soil, and we left Samara, a city about 1,000 kilometers northeast of Moscow. In the meantime, I fought flu or cold symptoms in an airplane that could not get on board due to visa complications.

We never really had a sense of concern. Guests on this plane included NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier, one of the agency's top exponents of aerospace – and a trusted negotiator for the Russian Space Agency. On board were also several NASA employees with diplomatic privileges who sent a hotline to our authorities to find out what to do. This allows you to visit Russia, leave the country and return within a given time. (In my case it was 90 days.)

If we got off in Samara, we would burn our second entry into the Russian Federation at a border crossing and miss the chance to travel all the way to Kazakhstan. So NASA – as NASA – quickly came into the intercom system to tell us that they were working out options.

Our three options were, as they saw it, the following: In the Baikonur military zone (a zone that is normally forbidden to civilians) to land planes) to obtain special powers to stay in Samara at the airport hotel or in to fly another city in Kazakhstan and bring it to Baikonur.

With nothing to do but wait, the mood became more festive as the flight crew dispensed drinks. I slept off my symptoms. Physicians from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency regularly checked my health. Between the nap I saw VIPs mingling with reporters, and eventually the Canadian astronaut Josh Kutryk came on board to chat with a CSA official. Passengers phoned and exchanged phones to make sure anyone could reach who needed them.

The three young children of Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques played in the hallways with the two older ones in astronauts' pajamas. A few television reporters filmed their antics when Saint-Jacques' wife Veronique Morin had the kids in mind. The light of day turned into darkness, and the dinner time came and went.

We received frequent updates, water, and (in some cases) something to eat. After 2 hours, the diplomatic negotiations were successful – we would fly to Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, and take a 3-hour bus ride to Baikonur, which arrived just 2 hours before the planned rocket launch.

Our plane landed without further incident In this article, the media arrived at the Seven Winds Hotel and prepare for the rocket launch. The missile rollout is scheduled for 7 am on December 1, local time (8 pm EST, Nov. 30 or 1 pm GMT December 1). If everything goes according to plan, the start will take place on 3 December.

This trip to the ISS is the first since a dramatic crash during the launch of Expedition 57 on October 11th. Russian space officials attributed the problem to a deformed sensor. allow the launch of Expedition 58.

Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and on Facebook. Original article on Space.com


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