Two veteran astronauts are enjoying their last week on Earth before rocketing into space for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao and Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, the two-person crew of ISS Expedition 10, are expected to launch into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 13 at 11:06 EDT (0306 Oct. 14 GMT). Chiao will command the mission and serve as NASA's ISS science officer while Sharipov will serve as flight engineer.
"They're ready and excited to start their space station adventure," said Susan Brand, NASA's increment manager for Expedition 10, during a preflight briefing today at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.
Both Expedition 10 astronauts are spaceflight veterans. Chiao logged 36 days in space over three space shuttle flights, while Sharipov logged 211 hours as a mission specialist aboard the Endeavor space shuttle during the STS-89 mission to Mir space station.
Chiao and Sharipov are set to spend 191 days aboard the ISS. Cosmonaut Yuri Shargin will ride up to the station with the Expedition 10 crew as a visitor and return with the orbital facility's current crew - Expedition 9 commander Gennady Padalka and NASA's Michael Fincke - on Oct. 23.
ISS controllers have expressed some concern over the station's supplies of consumables such as food and oxygen, which depend heavily on the prompt arrival of two cargo ships - one on Dec. 25 and another on Feb. 28, 2005.
"We're watching, as always, our consumables closely," said Mark Geyer, NASA's ISS manager for integration and operations, during the briefing.
The launch of Expedition 10, originally scheduled for Oct. 9, has been pushed back twice due to glitches with the crew's Soyuz spacecraft. The first setback occurred when an explosive bolt unexpectedly fired during ground testing. A small fuel leak prompted the second delay. Both glitches were traced to ground-based testing equipment, and the spacecraft was given the go for its flight, ISS flight controllers said.
"The fact that they were able to get those [glitches] identified quickly and turned around and ready for launch is a testament to their ability," Geyer said of Russia's Soyuz flight readiness crews. "We're all confident in their abilities."
While Chiao and Sharipov were initially hopeful to host the crew of NASA's first space shuttle mission since the loss of Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003, that flight has been pushed beyond the Expedition 10 crew's return date of April 25, 2005. Instead, the ISS crew will continue to prepare the station to receive future visitors, which includes reorganizing onboard cargo and clearing out an airlock for space shuttle docking. They will also conduct two spacewalks during their stay.
"We're looking forward to a good increment aboard the space station," said Annette Hasbrook, NASA's lead flight director for Expedition 10.