Astronauts Set to Launch Aboard Russian Spacecraft

Astronauts Set to Launch Aboard Russian Spacecraft

Wednesday, May 27, 2009



By Clara Moskowitz


After a decade of construction, the International Space Station will
finally live up to its name this week when the first six-person crew
takes up residence with astronauts from five different countries.

The second half of the station’s inaugural six-member crew is poised to launch Wednesday at 6:34 a.m. EDT (1034 GMT) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome.

They will arrive on Friday to join the first wave of their crew already aboard the station.

• Check FOXNews.com at 6:34 a.m. EDT Wednesday for live streaming of the launch.

• Click here to visit FOXNews.com’s Space Center.

When the new Soyuz crew joins the three astronauts already waiting on the orbiting laboratory
, it will be the first time, ever, that all five of the station’s
international partner agencies — NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency
(Roscosmos), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the
European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) — will
be represented on orbit at once.

It’s fitting the cosmic line-up coincided with the station’s first six-person crew.

“At
this time we will have Canadian, Russian, American, European and
Japanese guy on board space station, and I would say it’s [an]
outstanding event,” Expedition 20 space station commander Gennady Padalka,
a Russian cosmonaut, said in a preflight interview. “You know that all
these countries have been participating in ISS project for 10 years as
a minimum, and now it’s pretty high time to have all these astronauts
and cosmonauts together working in space.”

Construction
on the International Space Station began in 1998, with the first
three-man tenants setting up shop in 2000, once living quarters
arrived. Today, the station is home to Padalka, American astronaut Michael Barratt and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.

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On Wednesday, russian cosmonaut Roman
Romanenko will command the Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraftthat will launch
himself, Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne of ESA, and Canadian
astronaut Robert Thirsk.

The three spaceflyers are due to dock at the space station Friday morning.

“When
we all get together at the table we will see that we are people from
all corners of the world, working together as a single team to execute
our mission program, and I want to believe that we will be able to find
a common language and that we will all be happy to be part of this
family,” Romanenko said in a NASA interview.

The astronauts will have more to drink at their dinner table. Last week, the station crew officially began consuming water recycled from their own urine and sweat, part of vital life support gear designed specifically to support a full six-person crew.

New arrivals

Romanenko,
a former Russian air force pilot, will be making his first trip to
space after joining the Russian Space Agency in 1997. He is married and
has one son.

De Winne is a former test pilot for the Belgian air force, and joined ESA in 2000. He is married and has three children.

De
Winne is a veteran of a 2002 Soyuz trip to the space station and is set
to assume command of the Expedition 21 mission after Padalka flies home
in October. When he takes the helm he will become the first European
station commander.

“This is the first for
Europe that there will be an ESA astronaut commanding the International
Space Station, and that’s of course very important for ESA, our
European agency, which has invested a lot in the International Space
Station,” De Winne said.

Thirsk was a
medical doctor before he joined the CSA in 1983. In 1996 he flew on the
space shuttle science mission STS-78, which was devoted to materials
and life science research. He is Canada’s first long-duration astronaut.

Getting crowded

Padalka,
Barratt and Wakata on the station now are currently serving as the
station’s Expedition 19 crew. They will shift to Expedition 20, with
Padalka still in charge, when their new crewmates arrive Friday.

“I
think for us to expand our frontiers in space, international
cooperation is essential,” Wakata said in a preflight interview. “The
ISS project has demonstrated that it’s possible.”

The
members of the double-sized crew will have their work cut out for them,
with a full schedule of research and space station maintenance planned.
The international nature of the crew should also provide some fun
chances for cross-cultural learning.

“We
look at each other as much more as colleagues than ambassadors but at
the same time we’re well aware that we represent nations and agencies
and we want to serve the best interests of all of those as well,”
Barratt said in an interview before his flight. “We enjoy one another’s
food and company and we just have a great time together.”

The
astronauts are prepared for some wrangling to take place as they try to
adjust to a more crowded space station than they’ve been used to.

“The
ground is doing a great job, and they try to take into account on all
details, and they try to envisage all problems,” Padalka said. “But at
the same time we are ready to put up with some tiny problems and ready
to work with the ground as one team to resolve them.”

More science

With
the start of large crews, the space station is entering a new phase
where spaceflyers hope to move beyond the basics of building the
station, which has been the focus of most missions so far.

A
major goal of the Expedition 20 mission is to “help transition the
space station program from a phase that has been dominated by assembly,
to one of utilization to help the station fulfill its new
responsibility as a world-class facility for doing research and
development,” Thirsk said.

And if the
space station starts to feel crowded when the first six-person crew
arrives, wait till the space shuttle Endeavour visits during its June
STS-127 flight.

“If you consider that the
permanent crew will be six, a visiting shuttle will be seven, now we’ll
have up to 13 on the space station,” Barratt said. “As far as I know,
that’s the most we’ve ever had on a single platform in space in
history, so we’ll look forward to seeing how all that works.”

Copyright © 2009 Imaginova Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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