A Russian-built spacecraft is bearing down on theInternational Space Station (ISS) to ferry two veteran astronauts andMalaysia's first spaceflyer to the orbital laboratory later today.
Tucked aboard the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft are Expedition 16commander Peggy Whitson, flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysianastronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. The three spaceflyers are due to arrive atthe ISS at about 10:52 a.m. EDT (1452 GMT) to complete a two-day trek thatbegan with a flawlessWednesday launch.
"I think that's going to be a very impressive view aswe're approaching in the Soyuz," said Whitson, the space station's firstfemale commander, in a preflight interview.
Whitsonand Malenchenko are each making their own return to the ISS as they beginbusy six-month mission aboard the orbital laboratory.
A veteran NASA astronaut, Whitson served as the station'sExpedition 5 flight engineer during a 185-day spaceflight in 2002. Malenchenko,a Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut, spent a similar amount of time aboardthe as its Expedition 7 commander in 2003. But since the two astronauts visitedthe ISS, the station has received newwing-like solar arrays and massive truss segments.
"I look forward to this flight very much,"Malenchenko told reporters before flight. "I very much want to see thespace station again."
Shukor, meanwhile, is flying as a short-term visitor to theISS under a commercial agreement between the Malaysian government and Russia topurchase Russian-built military jets. Selected from 11,000 initial applicants,Shukor is an orthopedic surgeon by training and a devout Muslim who plans toobserve the end of the holy month of Ramadan while in orbit.
He will return to Earth on Oct. 21 with Expedition 15commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, who have livedaboard the space station since last April. The Russian cosmonauts are leavingbehind fellow Expedition 15 flight engineer Clayton Anderson, who will stayaboard the space station as part of its Expedition 16 crew.
The space station's crew swap sets the stage for a plannedNASA shuttle mission slatedto launch Oct. 23. That mission, STS-120 commanded by veteran shuttle flyerPamela Melroy, will relocate an old ISS solar power segment and deliver a vitalconnecting node that will serve as a foundation for future internationallaboratories.
The European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory and firstunmanned cargo ship Jules Verne, as well as a robotic arm addition and thefirst segment of Japan's three-part Kibo module, are also slated to beinstalled at the ISS during the Expedition 16 mission.
NASAwill provide live video coverage of the Expedition 16 crew's ISS rendezvous,docking and hatch opening activities on NASA TV beginning at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400GMT). Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TVfeed and ISS mission coverage.
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