Astronaut's loved ones travel to witness Russian launch

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan Some are NASA employees, while some are friends and relatives of astronauts on the Russian launch.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't cheap, but the invited friends and relatives of Astronaut Scott Kelly say they wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Next year when the shuttles are retired and we must rely on Russian rockets, there's bound to be more media attention on the Russian space program.

But for now, it was just us, documenting the sights and sounds of international cooperation.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so excited for him and I'm so scared at the same time," said Kelly's daughter, Samantha Kelly.

They've traveled 7,000 miles at great expense to witness eight and a half minutes of history.

"I thought about it long and hard because I knew the trip was long. It was expensive, but I said no at my age, I got do it. I can't wait," Kathleen McAvoy Scott, Kelly's great aunt, said.

"It's been a great opportunity, and Scott is a great friend of ours," said Richard Tijerina, Kelly's friend.

Friends and relatives of Kelly went to the Kazakhstan desert to watch him launch on the Russian rocket. The closest Americans can get to a shuttle launch in Florida is three miles; in Kazakhstan, they watch from barely half a mile away.

"It was the most beautiful thing," Samantha Kelly said. "I'm mean, I'm so happy for him. I'm bawling happy tears."

"I know all of our neighbors back in League City are rooting for him," Jim Wade, Kelly's neighbor, said.

Baikonur is a city of 50,000 in south central Kazakhstan. It's the place where the Russians launch their rockets. It was built in the early 1950s as part of a super secret plan by the Russians to be the first in space.

Kelly, who's commanded two shuttle missions, is the latest American to ride the Soyuz rocket to the space station. His training there has meant months away from loved ones.

"I couldn't believe he'd have to train for two and a half years for single mission, but there's quite a bit involved, and obviously, he had to learn Russian," said Jerry Del Prete, Kelly's friend.

"Everything they've done in their life is working toward their dream," said Kelly's father, Richard Kelly.

"He definitely has an adventurous spirit, and this is the adventure of a lifetime," Amico Kauderer, Kelly's girlfriend, said.

Kelly and two cosmonauts were stuck in quarantine for weeks before launch but stayed in touch from behind a glass shield. It means the world, he says, to have loved ones travel so far to see him off.

"That's what I'll miss mostly, family and friends -- probably a bit of fresh air as well," Kelly said.

"He'll have a satellite phone that he'll be able to call friends and family and keep in touch on a daily basis," Tijerina said.

It's especially important for Kelly's twin brother and fellow astronaut. Next February, Mark Kelly will command one of the final shuttle missions to the space station, where the two brothers will become the first relatives ever to meet in space.

"Oh it's gonna be great; not only is he my twin brother, but best friend," Mark Kelly said.

The Kelly twins are so close, but they've never shaken hands, so everyone is wondering whether they will finally shake hands when Mark opens the shuttle hatch and Scott Kelley welcomes him on the space station next spring.

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