A NASAastronaut riding aboard the International Space Station (ISS) said Wednesday thathe is not concerned with his eventual return to Earth, despite questions over whichspacecraft will transport home back from the orbital laboratory.
"I'm notreally so worried about coming back," ISS Expedition12 commander Bill McArthur told the Associated Press via a video interviewon NASA TV. "I know that NASA is putting a lot of effort into it."
McArthur isslated to return to Earth with Expedition 12 flight engineer Valery Tokarevaboard the Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft that delivered the two astronauts and U.S.space tourist GregoryOlsen to the ISS on Oct. 3. NASA officials, however, said there is some flexibilityin that plan should a U.S. space shuttle be ready to fly in the spring of 2006.
Recent GulfCoast hurricanesand ongoing externaltank work have delayedthe launch of NASA's second return to flight shuttle mission, STS-121 aboardDiscovery. The spaceflight is expected to launch some time next spring.
Beforelaunching toward the space station, McArthur had hoped tospend about 213 days in orbit and return aboard a U.S. space shuttle in May 2006,about one month after Tokarev left the station aboard Soyuz TMA-7.
"If I don'tmake it back in April, I've already told my wife that she's going to have tofile for an extension on our income tax return," McArthur said. "But we'llcross that bridge when we come to it."
McArthuradded that he'd welcome the opportunity to return to Earth with Tokarev afterspending years training with the Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut fortheir ISS mission.
Changingthe ISS guard
McArthurand Tokarev are taking over ISS control from Expedition11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips.
Phillips toldthe Associated Press that he felt the Expedition 11 flight - which sawthe first space shuttle visitto the ISS since December 2002 - has gone smoothly, but looks forward to theeveryday sights and sounds of Earth.
"It's beena lot of fun, a big adventure and everything I hoped for," said Phillips, whois concluding his first long-duration spaceflight with Expedition 11. "But it'stime to come home."
Phillipsand McArthur are spending this week going over station handover procedures withtheir crewmates. Both NASA astronauts said that although current ISSexpeditions are set at six-month intervals, they could personally envisionspending one or more years aboard the orbital platform.
"Thebiggest psychological issue is how your family is faring back home," Phillipssaid, adding that he's missed attending his children's soccer games and orchestra performances during his time on orbit. "I don't want to miss thosefamily events."
Phillips,Krikalev and Olsen will return to Earth on Oct. 10 aboard their Soyuz TMA-6spacecraft.
- Gregory Olsen: Third Space Tourist Aims for Orbit
- Image Gallery: Space Tourist Greg Olsen prepares for launch
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 11
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12