HOUSTON - A trio of astronauts and oneentrepreneur are counting the days remaining before they rocket towards theInternational Space Station (ISS).
Thethree-astronaut crew of ISSExpedition 14 and Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto areset to launch toward the space station in the upcoming months, some riding aRussian Soyuz into orbit in September while one NASA spaceflyer waits for aDecember shuttle launch.
"This is alittle bit unusual in that we represent not just one mission, Expedition 14,but in fact several," said NASA astronaut MichaelLopez-Alegria, commander of the next six-month ISS mission. "There's a lotgoing on, we hope to keep it interesting."
Lopez-Alegriaand Expedition 14 flight engineer MikhailTyurin are set to launch toward the ISS aboard their Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraftin mid-September, with Enomoto aboard for the ride as the fourth paying visitorto the orbital laboratory.
But that'swhere things get a bit complicated.
Lopez-Alegriaand Tyurin will relieve the space station's current crew - Expedition 13commander PavelVinogradov and JeffreyWilliams - but absorb one flight engineer, European Space Agency (ESA) astronautThomasReiter, into their Expedition 14 ranks.
"He can'tbe with us today because he's busy," Lopez-Alegria told reporters here at NASA'sJohnson Space Center (JSC) as he taped Reiter's picture to a dais. "He's inspace as a member of STS-121, soon to be Expedition 13."
Reiter launchedtoward the ISS on July 4 with NASA's STS-121shuttle crew aboard Discovery and is slated to head back to Earth inDecember aboard the same orbiter during NASA's STS-116 mission. That shuttleflight will bring NASA astronaut SunitaWilliams to join Expedition 14 and stay on through part of the next mission,Expedition 15.
Enomoto,meanwhile, will return with the Expedition 13 crew after about eight days atthe ISS.
"This is anexciting time for NASA," Lopez-Alegria said. "We're about to really crank upthe assembly of the space station again."
Twoveterans, one rookie, many spacewalks
Lopez-Alegria,a U.S. Navy captain, is a veteran of NASA shuttle flights with threespaceflights under his belt between 1995 and 2002.
But it isTyurin who brings long-duration spaceflight experience to the table. TheRussian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut served as a flight engineer for 125 daysas part of the station's Expedition3 crew in 2001.
"It will bevery interesting to compare how things became better from my previous flightand to see how we can improve things in the future," Tyurin said. "I think thiswill be my primary goal."
Williams ismaking her first spaceflight during Expedition 14, but has aimed for an ISS-boundmission since day one.
"That's allI've ever wanted to do is go live on the space station," Williams said. "Weneed to figure out what happens to the human body when you're up in space,microgravity, for an extended stay before we go anywhere else."
Lopez-Alegriasaid the Expedition 14 mission will activate a new solar array - to be shippedto the space station during NASA's STS-115 shuttle flight in late August - and stagethree spacewalks within nine days in January 2007. While shuttle missions likeSTS-121 have staged three spacewalks in five days, long-duration ISS crews havenever attempted such a feat, he added.
"Theprimary objective for that will be to reconfigure the cooling system for theavionics on the space station," Lopez-Alegria said. "Clearly we have somechallenges, I think the biggest ones are the limited time we have and all we'retrying to accomplish in that time."
With threeunmanned Russian Progress cargo ships and up to two shuttle flights to arriveduring the Expedition 14 mission, cargo stowage will also be an issue, he said.
"We'regoing to increase the stowage on the station up to 10 percent during theincrement and as you know it's already pretty full," Lopez-Alegria said, addingthat the spaceflight will help continue ISS construction.
Enomoto'sISS arrival will make him the fourth paying visitor to the orbital laboratoryat a personal cost of about $20 million. His backup will be U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari, a sponsor of the $10 million suborbital Ansari X Prize competition for privately-developed, reusable spacecraft.
"I reallywant to go to space," Enomoto, 35, said. "I've had this dream since I was fiveyears old, and that's my motivation."
Enomoto,who goes by the nickname "Dice-K," is an independent investor residing in Hong Kong. Previously, he served as executive vice president and chief strategic officerfor Livedoor, an information technology firm, and founded the website DICE-K.com.
His trip tothe ISS is the result of a deal between Russia's Federal Space Agency and theVirginia-based firm Space Adventures, which has brokered previous space stationvisits for wealthy entrepreneurs DennisTito, MarkShuttleworth and - most recently - GregoryOlsen.
"I'vepurchased a product, but it's not delivered yet," Enomoto said. "So I don'tknow if it's worth it."
SpaceAdventures also offers aircraft flights that provide brief periods ofweightlessness, rides aboard Russian MiG jets, plans a line of suborbital spacecraftto launch from spaceports in Singaporeand the UnitedArab Emirates, as well as $100 million trips around the Moonaboard Soyuz vehicles.
Like Olsen,Enomoto intends to perform some science experiments aboard the ISS for theEuropean Space Agency (ESA) while enjoying the view of Earth from more than 200miles (321 kilometers) above the planet.
"I want to takea look at the Earth, plus the Moon and the stars," he said.
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