Under the cold, pure skies in central Kazakhstan, the Russian Soyuz rocket, to be taken over by Canadian David Saint Jacques in orbit, was carefully maneuvered from his hanger and taken by train in his final position before the blast on Monday.
The so-called "breakthrough" is one of the most important rituals in the pre-accession routine for the mission that will be taken by Saint-Jacques and two other astronauts at the International Space Station.
The event, which is traditional, drew hundreds of spectators into the fiercely cold morning of the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome, set in the flat, desolate landscape of Central Asia.
The pre-defined procession began with the spacecraft that loosened from the hangar where it was assembled, with its four giant engines that first came out. When the pounding train landed at the launch station nearly two hours later, the rocket was loosened in a vertical position with the help of a giant hydraulic arm.
"It was wonderful," said Canadian Josh Kutrik, who was elected one of the two new astronauts in Canada in 2017.
He is part of a large delegation sent by the Canadian Space Agency to witness the launch.
"To be happy enough to see the rocket and take off the railroad tracks, and see that it is fueled and, finally, to put passengers on board, it's fascinating to think we are doing it."
By tradition, cosmonauts and astronauts do not participate in the spread. Earlier this week, Saint-Jacques and his two colleagues, US En McKline and Russian Oleg Kononenko visited the rocket and tested equipment for the capsule for the last time.
Sen Jacques is expected to hold a final press conference in Baikonur on Sunday, but in previous interviews he expressed confidence in technology and said he was eager to begin his journey.
Russian Orthodox priest will officially bless the rocket on Sunday, and the crew will receive a special blessing just hours before it leaves, scheduled for Monday 6:31 ET.
"I feel proud and happy for David," Kutric said.
Launching ramp tourists
The woman of Saint-Jacques, Veronica and two of their three children were in the crowd and greeted until the Soyuz was abolished in its last position.
Among those who waved Canadian flags were Michael, Joe and Patricia Olson from Williams Lake, BC.
Michael Olson says they were so inspired by the meeting with Saint Jacques two years ago decided to fly to Central Asia to send him.
"I have always had an interest in space travel," he said.
"[When] we met with David, we told him we would see his launch, so we are fulfilling a promise. "
His mother, Patricia, says she never expected to end in the middle of Central Asia, seeing a missile explosion in space.
"It's incredible," she said. "He leads us to a place where we never thought we would."
Several travel agencies offer Soyuz visits, with prices typically in the range of $ 5000 Cdn per person.
Rare launch for Canadian
Since the retirement of the last space shuttle, Russia's Soyuz program is the only way to bring astronauts to ISB.
NASA is paying around $ 80m an astronaut's destination and dividing it among the nations that financially support the IHD project.
Canada's contribution led to the unforgettable mission of Chris Hudfield as an ISO commander five years ago, but the trip to Saint-Jacques is the only one scheduled for a Canadian astronaut.
The only other active astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, Jeremy Hansen, may have to wait several more years before being shut down.
The Baikonur facility was built in the early 1960s, during the heyday of the Soviet Union's space program.
Although Russia has since built a new cosmodrome in the far east of the country, the East facility deals with cargo layoffs, and the launch in Kazakhstan is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.
The launch of Saint-Jacques was originally scheduled for later in December, but was transmitted after the Soyuz's last piloting in October failed to reach the orbit.
The two crew members fled the injured after a risky ballistic descent with a high atmosphere back on Earth.