NASA named a three-astronaut team as the next crew of the International Space Station (ISS), a trio that will launch toward the orbital laboratory in stages later this year.
Veteran NASA shuttle astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria will command the six-month Expedition 14 mission, with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin serving as flight engineer.
A third Expedition 14 crewmember, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, is expected to join Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin - who will ride a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS in September - during the STS-116 shuttle flight currently scheduled for December 2006.
The Expedition 14 mission will mark the second three-person astronaut team to visit the ISS since the 2003 Columbia accident forced a reduction in crew size due to the lack of shuttle flights that followed.
After three years of two-person crews, the current Expedition 13 crew is expected to return to the original three-astronaut plan with the arrival of European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter during NASA's planned STS-121 shuttle flight slated to fly no earlier than July 1. Reiter will join the Expedition 14 crew until Williams arrives, NASA said.
Selected to join NASA's astronaut corps in 1992, Lopez-Alegria has served aboard three shuttle flights beginning with Columbia's STS-73 mission in 1995. During 2000's STS-92 mission aboard Discovery and the STS-113 flight aboard Endeavour in 2002, Lopez-Alegria aided in the construction of the ISS and staged five spacewalks during those two flights.
A captain in the U.S. Navy, Lopez-Alegria has logged more than 42 days in Earth orbit and about 34 hours of spacewalking time. During Expedition 14, he will also serve as NASA's science officer throughout the mission.
Like Lopez-Alegria, Tyurin is no stranger to spaceflight.
A cosmonaut since 1993 with Russia's Federal Space Agency, Tyurin served as flight engineer during the third ISS mission - Expedition 3 - which launched toward the orbital platform in August 2001 during NASA's STS-105 mission aboard Discovery. Tyurin spent 125 in orbit before returning with NASA's STS-108 shuttle crew aboard Endeavour in December 2001.
Unlike her Expedition 14 crewmates, Williams is making her first spaceflight.
A commander in the U.S. Navy, where she's served as a naval aviator and flight instructor, Williams joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1998. She has served as a liaison in Moscow to support the Expedition 1 mission - the first long-duration ISS spaceflight - and supported station robotics work. Williams has logged over 2,770 flight hours in 30 different types of aircraft throughout her naval and astronaut career.
The Expedition 14 crew is expected to relieve the space station's current tenants - Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov, flight engineer Jeffrey Williams - who arrived at the orbital laboratory on April 1.
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