American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are poised to launch to the
International Space Station tonight on a Russian rocket.
trio is slated to lift off Thursday (Oct. 7) at 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) from
Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The spaceflyers will ride a new model of the
tried-and-true Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the TMA-01M, which features new
guidance, navigation, control and data processing systems, and an improved
cooling device for the electronics.
crew is launching just days after the 53rd anniversary of the launch of
Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, which occurred on Oct. 4, 1957.
Indeed, their Soyuz will even blast off from the very same launch pad.
astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka are
set to take up long-term posts as members of the station's Expedition 25 crew. Kelly
has a twin brother, Mark, who is also an astronaut and is due to fly aboard
the space shuttle Endeavour on the STS-134 mission in February.
new station crew is set to dock at the orbiting outpost's rooftop Poisk module
on Saturday at 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT Sunday). They will join the outpost's
existing Expedition 25 crew – station commander Doug Wheelock of NASA and
flight engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia and Shannon Walker of NASA. [Video:
NASA's Identical Twin Astronauts]
November, half of the station's crew will return to Earth and Kelly will take
command of the outpost to begin the Expedition 26 mission.
a real privilege to be part of this crew and to be part of something that has
been such a successful program to date – the International
Space Station," Kelly said during a recent press briefing. "We're
finishing up the assembly of the space station and it's really time to start
ramping up the science we do."
their mission, the crew will participate in a wide array of research, including
fundamental physics, biometric experiments and investigations of crystal growth
in space, as well as education outreach.
and Kaleri are both veteran spaceflyers – Kelly flew
on two space shuttle missions and Kaleri has traveled to space four times
before – while Skripochka is making his first spaceflight.
looking forward to my first spaceflight," Skripochka told SPACE.com in a
preflight interview. "Especially because the program for our flight is full of many events."
crew is scheduled to oversee the visits of two shuttle flights – the February
2011 trip of Endeavour, plus an earlier flight by the space shuttle Discovery
in November. During their tenure, the station will also host two unmanned cargo
ship visits – one from Europe and one from Japan.
overlap of Endeavour's flight and the Expedition 26 mission means that the Kelly
astronaut twins will likely rendezvous in space.
feel pretty confident that we'll meet in space," Scott Kelly said.
"On a personal level, it will be great to have two shuttles visit while
I'm up there. Having my brother on the last one will make it even more special."
Kelly's shuttle flight is currently the last
scheduled shuttle mission, though Congress recently passed a bill to
approve one more flight before the fleet is retired.
managing the space traffic, up-keeping the station and conducting research, the
spaceflyers will have their work cut out for them.
Plus, they have to deal with some occasional culture clash.
though we bring different cultures and different schools of thought and
different backgrounds to the work, you have to learn and evolve with time how to
work together with the partners," Kaleri said. "This is not just the
most difficult but probably the most interesting part of the job as well."
broadcast the upcoming Soyuz spacecraft launch live on NASA TV, beginning
at 6:15 p.m. ET. Click here for space station mission
updates and a link to NASA TV.