Space Station Astronauts to Launch Amid Heightened Russian Security
The launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is illuminated at sunrise as it awaits the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-18 vehicle March 31, 2010. The complex has received heightened security in the wake of recent terrorist bombings in Moscow.
Credit: NASA

An air of heightened security has surrounded plans to launch a new crew of astronauts toward the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian rocket early Friday.

Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut are slated to lift off aboard a Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome at 12:04 a.m. EDT (0404 GMT).

In the wake of recent terrorist bombings in Moscow, the Russian government has increased security measures at the launch site, including sniffer dogs and helicopter surveillance, according to Russian wire reports.

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko are due to take up long-term residence at the station as Expedition 23 flight engineers, bringing the station's crew complement to its maximum of six. They will join current ISS commander Oleg Kotov of Russia, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and Timothy (T.J.) Creamer of NASA.

Space station traffic

The newcomers will have a busy first few weeks, with the space shuttle Discovery slated to launch on its STS-131 mission on April 5, only three days after the Soyuz launch, and arrive at the space station April 7 with its own seven-member crew.

"I imagine first off it?ll be get used to your new home, and then it will be let?s get ready for the crew that?s coming up and all of the details that we?re going to need to provide and work with them to help make their mission a success," Dyson said in a preflight NASA interview.

Dyson, a trained chemist, will be making her second trip to the orbiting lab ? she previously visited in August 2007 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour's STS-118 flight. A native of Arcadia, Calif., she was selected as an astronaut in June 1998.

Dyson's scientific background will be useful for the busy schedule of research activities she plans while in space.

"The science that we?re doing on space station isn?t just fun science, it?s not gee whiz; it?s science with a purpose," she said. "It?s a purpose of going on and exploring space and as well as what can we understand better about our own life here on Earth."

Rookie cosmonauts

Alexander Skvortsov of Russia will be making his first spaceflight. A Russian Air Force pilot and an experienced diver, Skvortsov was selected as a cosmonaut candidate in 1997.

"This has always been my dream, to fly, because my first desire was to fly in the air," he said in a preflight interview. Skvortsov's father was an aviator and was a member of the cosmonaut corps for a short time but never flew for health reasons. "The idea of space has always been very strongly present in our family."

In addition to the regular station maintenance duties, Skvortsov said he is looking forward to his research activities.

"I think one of the most important tasks that our crew members will have is promoting scientific research in space, a human spaceflight program, because I believe that humanity as a whole should strive to achieve loftier goals and try to expand the horizons," he said.

Skvortsov will command the TMA-18 flight, and is due to take over the helm of the space station in May as Expedition 24 commander.

Another cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko, will also be making his first spaceflight.

"It?s very important for me to see the Earth from afar and to spend six months on the station and try myself in the work on the station," Kornienko said. "I?m really looking forward to it."

Kornienko is a former Russian military paratrooper, and worked as an engineer for the main Russian space agency contractor, Energia Rocket Space Corporation (RSC), before being selected as a cosmonaut candidate in 1998.

?"The road to the space station for me was filled with obstacles and hard work, but I?m here," he said.

The spaceflyers are due to dock at the space station April 4.

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