Brazil's First Astronaut, Next ISS Crew to Launch Today
After rollout, the Soyuz rocket capped with the Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft are hoisted into launch position at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Brazil's first astronaut and a fresh International Space Station (ISS) crew are poised to launch into orbit atop a Russian-built rocket today on a two-day trip to the orbital laboratory.

NASA will provide live coverage of the ISS Expedition 13 launch beginning at 8:45 p.m. EST. Click here.
Brazilian Air Force Col. Marcos Pontes, his nation's first astronaut set to fly, and the 13th space station crew will rocket skyward aboard their Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft tonight at about 9:30 p.m. EST (0230 March 30 GMT) from a launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Central Asia's Kazakhstan.

Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov, of Russia's Federal Space Agency, and flight engineer Jeffrey Williams, a NASA astronaut, will accompany Pontes into orbit. The astronauts will launch from the same pad used to loft cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on his historic first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961.

"This vehicle is in the ideal condition," Vinogradov said after an inspection of the Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft and its Soyuz booster earlier this week. "We are ready for launch."

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The Expedition 13 crew will relieve the space station's current caretakers, Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev, who have lived aboard the 200-ton station since October 2005.

"I'm looking forward to my six months onboard the station," Williams said after the spacecraft inspection.

Vinogradov and Williams expect to conduct at least two spacewalks during their mission, and hope to host up to two NASA space shuttle crews while in charge of the orbital lab.

The Discovery orbiter and its STS-121 astronaut crew are currently scheduled to arrive at the ISS in July, bringing with them European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter to join Expedition 13 as a third crewmember. NASA's STS-115 ISS construction mission is also slated to launch toward the station aboard the Atlantis orbiter in late August.

Pontes and the Expedition 13 crew will spend about two days chasing the ISS before docking at the Earth-facing berth on its Russian-built Zarya control module. Docking is currently scheduled for March 31 at 11:19 p.m. EST (0419 April 1 GMT), NASA officials said.

The joint space station crews will spend about eight days transferring control of the ISS over to the Expedition 13 astronauts.

During that time, Pontes - who began training for a NASA shuttle flight in 1998 only to secure an ISS-bound seat aboard a Soyuz last year - will conduct a series of nanotechnology studies, as well as experiments for students in his native country as part of his Centennial Mission, which celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the first heavier-than-air flight by Brazilian aviator Alberto Santo-Dumont in 1906.

"Being part of this crew, especially this year in 2006, is very important," Pontes said during a preflight press conference.

Pontes will return to Earth with the Expedition 12 crew on April 8, when he, McArthur and Tokarev are due to step inside the Soyuz TMA-7 now docked at the aft end of the station's Zvezda module. The three astronauts are expected to land on the steppes of Kazakhstan at about 7:46 p.m. EDT (2346 GMT) that day.

NASA will provide live launch coverage for the Expedition 13/Pontes space shot beginning at 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 March 30 GMT).