Twoastronauts and the world's first female space tourist are set to cast off fromthe InternationalSpace Station (ISS) today and return to Earth.
ISSExpedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov,flight engineer JeffreyWilliams and U.S. entrepreneur AnoushehAnsari will undock from the orbital laboratory at about 5:54 p.m.EDT (2154 GMT) and descend back to Earth aboard their SoyuzTMA-8 spacecraft.
Vinogradovand Williams are completing a six-month mission aboard the ISS that began witha late March launch and an April 1 arrival to the orbital laboratory. Theastronauts will land in Kazakhstan at 9:10 p.m. EDT (0110 Sept. 29 GMT).
"I am readyto go home," Williams told the Houston Chronicle this week. "I am readyto endure what I need to endure physically to get there."
"Being ableto share this with all of you have made this trip very special for me," Ansaritold her supporters in a video message posted to her blog. "All your words of inspiration andsupport for me have inspired me to continue my journey and do more to be partof making a change in the world...to make our Earth a better place to live."
A long-timesupporter of private human spaceflight, Ansari was originally a backup forJapanese space tourist DaisukeEnomoto, who was paying an estimated $20 million for an ISS trip under anagreement between Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures.Ansari tookEnomoto's place after he faileda preflight medical check, and documented her spaceflight via an Internet blog where she discussed thejoys, wonders and - admittedly - some discomforts of orbital living.
"The mostinteresting experience - or should I call it experiment - is washing your hair,"Ansari wrote in one blog entry before describing a complicated process ofmaking a large water bubble over her head and using dry shampoo. "Now I know whypeople keep their hair short in space."
Lopez-Alegriasaid that Ansari's dedication and commitment to her mission, which includes severalbiomedical experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA) and stokinginterest in human spaceflight via her website has changed his previouslynegative view of space tourism. More than 10 million people have visitedAnsari's blog during her spaceflight, he added.
TheExpedition 14 crew - which also includes EuropeanSpace Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, who joined the Expedition 13 missionin mid-stride - inherited a larger station from Vinogradov and Williams, whosaw the station host twoNASA shuttles, gaina third crewmember and receivea new pair of trusses and solar wings during their spaceflight.
"Prettymuch from the moment I got aboard I loved it," Lopez-Alegria told CBS Newsof the ISS in a space-to-ground video link. "It's kind of like you maybeinherited something and you get to look into all the little nooks and cranniesin the closets and find all the neat stuff in there."
SpaceAdventures officials said Ansari's flight has gone amazingly well, and helpeddefine how the unique situation of backup private spaceflyers are approached inthe future.
"The flighthas been fantastic," Eric Anderson, Space Adventures CEO, told SPACE.com."We're very happy to have flown the first [private woman explorer] and she'llbe an excellent communicator, an excellent ambassador."
Anderson said Ansari's husbandHamid will accompany the recovery helicopter crews that will meet theprivate spaceflyer and Expedition 13 astronauts after their Soyuz lands on the Kazakhstan steppes.
"He will beable to go through and be with the medical teams when they arrive," Anderson said.
"I thinkAnousheh is having a great time since we arrived at this station,"Lopez-Alegria told CNN Espa?ol this week. "She has not stopped smilingand I don't think she wants to go back to Earth."
NASATV will broadcast the departure of Ansari and the Expedition 13 astronauts fromthe ISS live beginning at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) for crew farewells and hatchclosure. Hatches are scheduled to be shut at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT), withundocking set for 5:54 p.m. EDT (2154 GMT) and landing scheduled for 9:10 p.m.EDT (0110 Sept. 29 GMT).
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- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 14