Two Russiancosmonauts and an American billionaire are gearing up to launch into orbittoday on a flight bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
Expedition15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, flight engineer Oleg Kotov and Americanentrepreneur CharlesSimonyi -- the fifth paying tourist to the ISS -- are set to launch aboardtheir Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft at 1:31 pm. EDT (1731 GMT) from BaikonurCosmodrome on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan.
"Very fewpeople know that the pad we're going to lift off from in Baikonur is the veryfirst pad that the very first Sputnik was launched and, later of course, thefirst human Yuri Gagarin in 1957 and 1961, respectively," Simonyi said in aprelaunch press conference, adding that 2007 marks the 50thanniversary of spaceflight. "So in some sense we'll be leaving from that historicalsite."
Simonyi, aHungary-born computer software developer, is reportedly paying between $20million and $25 million for a 13-day flight to the ISS under an agreementarranged with Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based firm SpaceAdventures. His close friend Martha Stewart and 50 other friends have made thetrip to Baikonur Cosmodrome to watch his planned space shot, Simonyi has said.
Simonyi and the Expedition 15 crew are due to arrive at the ISS on April 9, though the space tourist willreturn to Earth April 20 with the station's Expedition 14 crew and is documentinghis spaceflight on his website www.charlesinspace.com.
"I don'tlike this word 'tourist,'" Yurchikhin said of Simonyi in a prelaunch briefing,adding that the American entrepreneur has several tasks to perform duringliftoff. "He will be one of our crewmembers, a real crewmember, who has a lotof jobs in space."
Yurchikhinand Kotov will mark Russia's first pair of long-duration cosmonauts toserve together aboard the space station since the Expedition 5 mission in 2002.They plan to perform three spacewalks during their six months aboard theorbital outpost, join NASA astronaut Sunita Williams already aboard, andreceive several visiting space shuttle crews to continue ISS construction.
Thecosmonauts will replace Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria andflight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who have lived aboard the ISS since September2006 and were joined by Williams in December. They also plan to host NASA'snext shuttle mission, STS-117 aboard Atlantis, in May or June to receive anew set of solar arrays, then welcome NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson --Williams' replacement -- during the STS-118 spaceflight later this summer.
A fifthExpedition 15 crewmember, NASA astronaut Daniel Tani, could also join the crewif his STS-120 shuttle mission to deliver the station's new Harmony nodelaunches during the six-month station increment.
"We hope wewill see Dan Tani," Yurchikhin has said.
But whilethe Expedition 15 crew looks ahead to their long mission, Simonyi is eagerlywaiting to begin his own trip after a lifelong interest in human spaceflightthat began in his youth where, at age 13, he served as Hungary's Junior Cosmonaut.
"Beinginserted into orbit and approaching the space station, seeing it in its newglory, I think, will be a magic moment," Simonyi said in a prelaunch briefing.
NASAwill provide live launch coverage on NASA TV beginning at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630GMT). Click here for live Expedition 15 mission updates andSPACE.com's NASA TV feed.
- IMAGES: Space Tourist, Expedition 15 Crew Train for Launch
- VIDEO: Space Tourist Charles Simonyi in Zero G!
- Complete International Space Station Mission Coverage