The next humans to live and work aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are eagerly awaiting their mission -- the tenth expedition to the station -- and look forward to the possibility of greeting space shuttle visitors.
Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao, a veteran shuttle astronaut, and Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov are in their final 10 weeks of training before stepping inside a Soyuz spacecraft and kicking off a six-month ISS tour. Their launch will be staged from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 9 if all goes well
The new station crew is hoping to greet the shuttle astronauts from Discovery during STS-114, NASA's first return-to-flight mission expected to launch sometime in March 2005, and have trained specially for such a rendezvous.
""We're very excited about the possibility of STS-114's arrival," Chiao told reporters during a pre-launch briefing held Thursday at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.
Hoping for visitors
According to NASA shuttle officials, the space shuttle Discovery is expected to roll out of its maintenance bay in January and rocket into space sometime between March and April of 2005, coinciding with the end of Expedition 10's time aboard the ISS.
We're really hoping for visitors," Chiao said, adding that he and Shapriov are planning a special surprise for the crew of NASA's first shuttle mission should it arrive at ISS during their flight. "We have plenty of time to see what that is."
He and Sharipov have trained in a number of ways to help support a visiting space shuttle, including using the station's robot arm to help shuttle astronauts during extravehicular activities (EVAs) and photographing Discovery's surface thermal protection regions to make sure they are sound.
Neither Chiao nor Sharipov know who will fill the third seat during their Soyuz flight to the space station, but they do know the seat won't be empty.
The decision should be final by mid-August and is currently hovering between two finalists; a Russian businessman hoping to visit the station as a space tourist and cosmonaut with the Russian Federal Space Agency, Sharipov said.
"I would be happy to fly with either one," Chiao added.
There are no space rookies in the Expedition 10 crew.
Chiao has logged more than 36 days in space - 26 hours in spacewalks - and helped attach the station's Z1 Truss and Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 to the station's superstructure during his last space flight, STS-92 in October of 2000.
"So I'm going back to the house I helped build," he told SPACE.com, adding that the eventual completion of the ISS will be a huge step for the future of manned space flight. "We're learning now how to build large space vehicles in space."
Astronauts aboard future missions to Mars and beyond will most likely be required to build such structures on their own, without the benefit of direct advice from ground control, he added.
During their stay aboard the ISS, Chiao and Sharipov expect to perform at least two spacewalks to install antennas and equipment necessary for a future European cargo ship slated to begin supply flights in 2005.
A native of Danville, California and chemical engineer by training, Chiao has flown on three shuttle missions between July 1994 and October 2000, with Expedition 10 to be his longest mission to date. He and Sharipov have trained together over the last two years and both are confident about their friendship and compatibility.
"I knew [Leroy] for a long time before, when he first came to Star City in 1996," said Sharipov, a Russian Air Force pilot and flight instructor who was accepted into Russia's cosmonaut program in 1990. "We understand each other very good and he's very easygoing."
Hailing from the Oshsk region of Russia's Kirghizia, Sharipov was a mission specialist aboard the shuttle Endeavor during the STS-89 mission to the space station He has logged more than 211 hours in space and is eager to add another six months to his record.
"That first flight was an unforgettable feeling," Sharipov said, adding that he has served as a back up for five separate long duration flights, including Expedition 6 and Expedition 9. "But now there's another feeling, one to work very hard for this mission."