No restart button: Video game developer Richard Garriott is the most recent space tourist to take a ride on a Soyuz. This picture was taken during launch on October 12, 2008.
Garriott: There’s this iridescent, orange-ish glow from the solar panels that’s just not captured in photographs.
Olsen: I remember we were right on target.
Garriott: The docking cone is designed to where you can be off target by even up to half a meter, really, and it will funnel you into the correct docking.
Ansari: They open the hatch toward the Soyuz first.
Olsen: Our hatch won’t open. Our commander is pulling and pulling … finally we put our feet on it. “One, two, three, heave. One, two, three, heave.” It won’t budge. I’m thinking, “All the training and money, and now we can’t get the door open. We’re going to have to go home.” Then, finally, we cracked it.
Ansari: At that moment [the crew of the ISS] opens their door–to see how you look. If I was still sick, they didn’t want to put me in front of the camera and embarrass me.
Simonyi: We shaved beforehand, put on clean flight suits.
Olsen: When we drifted into the ISS, the first thing I did was hit my head on the ceiling. This was on Moscow television.
Shuttleworth: On the one hand, it’s kind of festive and welcoming, and then on the other, it’s kind of, “Shift over here to the camera and talk to the outside world.”
Olsen: One tradition is they ring the bell. The first commander of the ISS was a navy guy, so he brought a ship’s bell up to the ISS. Every time someone new came on, he’d ring the bell. Then the Russians have this tradition of giving you bread and salt when you arrive. Station commander Sergei Krikalyov gave us the bread and salt. I was awed just to be around him. He said, “How are you, Greg?” and gave me a big hug.
For the space tourists, there’s not much to do aboard the ISS. They generally occupy themselves by taking snapshots, checking e-mail, and phoning home. Richard Garriott shot a sci-fi film starring his fellow astronauts and cosmonauts. And everyone on board spends a surprising amount of time simply looking for things.
Olsen: After we docked, shook hands, and said hello, there was about an hour when we could just sort of wander around.
Shuttleworth: When I was up there, there were, depending on how you count the nodes, five or six modules. They reach the size of a caravan. Some are larger, some smaller. The most interesting pieces are sort of off axis. There’s a primary axis, which runs from the Russian habitation module through the storage module, through the American lab. And there were two things that hung off that. One was the docking module, and the other was what they call the front porch: the U.S. airlock.
Garriott: They gave me a little workstation near the ham radio in the service module and a little fold-down desk with a laptop on it, and I was like, “Wow, they’ve set me up in the middle of everyone else’s business. I’m going to be constantly in people’s way. It’s going to be hard to film.”
Simonyi: The commander tells you where you will stay, and in fact they gave me a bag for my stuff. I stuffed all my things in it and used the drawstring to secure it and attached it to the wall. Your home is basically invisible.
Ansari: I picked out a spot next to the window in the docking compartment. They told me that it was going to be cold and noisy. I said, “It doesn’t matter–I want to be next to a window.” They let me be there, and then they gave me this piece of cloth and the commander said, “Whenever you want privacy, just hang this, and we’ll know not to come over.” That made a nice private room for me.
Olsen: It’s a lot like camping. Backpacking, actually.
Ansari: Cleaning yourself is an ordeal. There is no shower aboard the space station. You have these wet towels and dry towels that you use every day to wipe yourself, and a package with your personal toiletries up there–basically, your comb, your toothbrush, and whatever else they allow you to take up there.
Shuttleworth: I took a camera.
Simonyi: I took a paper tape of one of the first programs I ever wrote, and my passport.