Brazil'sfirst astronaut and a fresh International Space Station (ISS) crew are poisedto launch into orbit atop a Russian-built rocket today on a two-day trip to theorbital laboratory.
Expedition13 commander Pavel Vinogradov, of Russia's Federal Space Agency, and flightengineer Jeffrey Williams, a NASA astronaut, will accompany Pontes into orbit. Theastronauts will launch from the same pad used to loft cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin onhis historic first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961.
"Thisvehicle is in the ideal condition," Vinogradov said after an inspection of theSoyuz TMA-8 spacecraft and its Soyuz booster earlier this week. "We are readyfor launch."
"I'mlooking forward to my six months onboard the station," Williams said after thespacecraft inspection.
Vinogradovand Williams expect to conduct at least two spacewalks during their mission,and hope to host up to two NASA space shuttle crews while in charge of theorbital lab.
The Discoveryorbiter and its STS-121astronaut crew are currently scheduled to arrive at the ISS inJuly, bringing with them European Space Agency (ESA) astronautThomas Reiter to join Expedition 13 as a third crewmember. NASA's STS-115ISS construction mission is also slated to launch toward the station aboard theAtlantis orbiter in late August.
Pontes andthe Expedition 13 crew will spend about two days chasing the ISS before dockingat the Earth-facing berth on its Russian-built Zarya control module. Docking iscurrently scheduled for March 31 at 11:19 p.m. EST (0419 April 1 GMT), NASAofficials said.
The jointspace station crews will spend about eight days transferring control of the ISSover to the Expedition 13 astronauts.
During thattime, Pontes - who began training for a NASA shuttle flight in 1998 only to securean ISS-bound seat aboard a Soyuz last year - will conduct a series ofnanotechnology studies, as well as experiments for students in his nativecountry as part of his Centennial Mission, which celebrates the 100-yearanniversary of the first heavier-than-air flight by Brazilian aviator AlbertoSanto-Dumont in 1906.
"Being partof this crew, especially this year in 2006, is very important," Pontes saidduring a preflight press conference.
Pontes willreturn to Earth with the Expedition 12 crew on April 8, when he, McArthur andTokarev are due to step inside the Soyuz TMA-7 nowdocked at the aft end of the station's Zvezda module. The three astronautsare expected to land on the steppes of Kazakhstan at about 7:46 p.m. EDT (2346GMT) that day.
NASA willprovide live launch coverage for the Expedition 13/Pontes space shot beginningat 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 March 30 GMT).
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- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 13