Launching Wednesday: New Station Crew, Space Tourist
Two new space station crewmembers and Canada's first space tourist are due to launch into space Wednesday on a Russian rocket.
The three spaceflyers are set to blast off on the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:14 a.m. EDT (0714 GMT).
Veteran NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Maxim Suraev, a rookie Russian cosmonaut, are scheduled to take up long-term residence on the International Space Station (ISS) as Expedition 21 crewmembers. Their Soyuz crewmate, billionaire space tourist Guy Laliberte, plans to stay aboard the station for about 10 days before flying home. Laliberte is an acrobat and the founder of Cirque du Soleil, and plans to devote his trip to raising awareness of global water issues. Click here for SPACE.com's full profile of Laliberte.
The three spaceflyers arrived at Baikonur on Sept. 18 and have been undergoing final training and preparations.
"Everything is progressing smoothly," Williams wrote Monday on his blog (http://blogs.nasa.gov/cm/blog/2089). "Several of us have been running in the desert every day, crossing paths with camels, cows, goats, wild horses, and the occasional shepherd."
They are due to dock at the space station Friday at 4:37 a.m. EDT (0837 GMT).
Pilot and parachuter
Williams, a native of Winter, Wis., is a former U.S. Army pilot who served for three years in Germany. He has also served as an experimental test pilot and has participated in competitive sport parachuting.
In addition to his blog, Williams is sharing his experience as an astronaut by posting updates on the microblogging site Twitter under the name "Astro_Jeff." He is one of a growing group of spaceflyers communicating with the public through the site.
"Our rocket is on the pad and ready to go!" he tweeted Monday.
Williams was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 1996. His first trip to space was as a flight engineer and lead spacewalker on the May 2000 STS-101 journey of the space shuttle Atlantis. He flew again in March 2006 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to spend six months aboard the ISS as an Expedition 13 flight engineer.
For the first half of his upcoming mission, Williams will serve as an Expedition 21 flight engineer. In December, when a new spacecraft arrives with three new crewmembers, Williams will take over as commander of Expedition 22.
When he's not busy with scientific research and station maintenance duties, Williams is a particularly avid Earth photographer.
"The biggest reward to me has always been bringing the experience to others on the ground," he said in a preflight interview. "Part of that, bringing the story back, is the photography."
Williams is married and has two sons.
Suraev, a 37-year old Russian Air Force pilot, is set to make his first trip to space on this mission. He began cosmonaut training in 1997, and was qualified as a test-cosmonaut in 1999.
"I?m really just looking forward to be in zero gravity and see how it might affect me," he said in a preflight interview. He said he was especially excited for the mission's planned spacewalk, which he is slated to participate in.
After such a long lead up to his flight, Suraev said he's thrilled to be finally approaching his liftoff date.
"I feel great," Suraev said. "I'm ready, I'm happy and I'm really looking forward to it."
Surayev is married and has two daughters.
Williams and Surayev are set to join the current station crew - an international cadre including Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott - to begin Expedition 21. They are only the second six-person crew, expanded from previous station crews of three.
Expedition 20 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Michael Barratt, a cosmonaut and NASA astronaut, respectively, are set to head home with Laliberte Oct. 11. De Winne will take over as the new station commander.
During the new crew's stay the space station will host two visiting space shuttle missions and one new Soyuz launch, as well as a handful of unmanned cargo ship arrivals.
Williams and Suraev are set to return to Earth in March 2010.
SPACE.com is providing full coverage of the launch of Laliberte and the Expedition 21 crew with Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for mission updates and live mission coverage. Launch coverage begins at 2:30 a.m. EDT (0630 GMT).
- Video - Tour the Space Station's Bathroom
- Video - Challenging Command: Belgian Astronaut Leads Crew of Six
- New Show - Inside the International Space Station
MORE FROM SPACE.com