Day 1: Landing in Moscow
By Tim O’Keefe

Moscow is an amazing city, so much more than I expected. After landing at 10 a.m., we went through customs, got our immigration cards and met the driver NASA arranged. All was easy, especially compared to the challenges we were warned we would face.

My first impression of Moscow: It reminded me of northern Minnesota. Birch trees, rich pines everywhere you looked by the airport — then we hit the traffic. It’s indescribable. While Moscow seems very well planned with wide roads — up to 8 lanes — into the heart of the city and sidewalks generally 20 feet across, the traffic was crawling stop and go. What was advertised as a 45-minute drive was easily an hour and a half.

Nine time zones took their toll, so after checking into the Volga Hotel in the eastern part of downtown Moscow (a property NASA uses exclusively year-round), it was time for a couple-hour nap before we met our group.

At 6 o’clock we met “Team Nyberg,” those here to experience International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 36, Karen’s second trip to the Space Station on the 36th international excursion.

According to John McBrine, our NASA host, what was once up to 125 NASA astronauts is now down to a little over 40, of which about six are females. Also along are Jon Nyberg, Karen’s brother; Dan Broten, a family friend of the Nybergs; Susan Slater Schnapp, a classmate at U of Texas with Karen; Susan’s father, Gary Slater; and Mike Rodriggs, a NASA employee and friend of Karen’s here as a “citizen.”

John has extensive experience in Russia, having lived here in the late ‘90s for four years in Star City, home of the Russian Space Agency and where the US-Russia partnership in space began after the fall of the former Soviet Union.

Mike has worked in NASA Mission Control, and both are extremely interesting to talk to as “insiders” to the space program.

With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the Russians, U.S., Japanese, Canada, and European Space Agencies are now all dependent on the Russian Soyuz rocket program as their means to get to the International Space Station. The Soyuz rocket is considered to be very reliable and very safe. For example, the Soyuz rocket has an escape mechanism which can be employed during launch if there’s a problem. This has been used once successfully during a launch.

We went out for dinner to meet one another, trying to understand the Russian menu with John acting as an interpreter while we entertained our waitress. Marilyn Hagerty would not have given our restaurant her stamp of approval, but hey the chicken noodle soup was delicious, and the Russian draft beer even better! The joy of travel invites the tastes of a new culture.

My first impression of Moscow is extremely positive. Everything is “big” [streets, sidewalks, buildings, etc.], and the architecture is amazing. The history of a rich culture is everywhere you look, and the city is meticulously clean.

Tomorrow is a very busy day touring Moscow.

We’re visiting Red Square, Lenin’s Tomb, St. Basil’s Church, the Kremlin, Christ the Savior Church, Moscow University, the National Cemetery, the site of the Moscow Olympics, and will end our day with a trip to the famous Moscow Circus.

In the meantime, sleep is gold!

More tomorrow — good night comrades!