Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) aregearing up for a crewmember exchange that will begin with the arrival of threenew spaceflyers at the orbital lab next week.
Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, as wellas South Korea's first astronaut, So-yeon Yi, are slated to launch April 8 at7:16 a.m. ET (1116 GMT) aboard their Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome,a Central Asian spaceport in Kazakhstan. They plan to dock at the ISS April 10.
The crew swap marks the end of the six-month space station Expedition16, led by commander Peggy Whitson, and the start of Expedition17, with Volkov as commander.
"Expedition 16 and the upcoming Expedition 17 are trulyan exciting time for the International Space Station program," said KirkShireman, deputy station program manager, in a Wednesday mission briefing.
Volkov and Kononenko, both first-time spaceflyers, will relieveWhitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko as the space station's core crewand begin their own six-month mission in orbit. Flight engineer GarrettReisman, a NASA astronaut currently aboard the ISS, will also stay on as partof the Expedition 17 crew.
Yi will visit the orbital outpost for about nine days andreturn aboard a Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft with Whitson and Malenchenko on April19.
Originally assigned as backup for this mission, Yi waschosen to replace Seoul's first choice, Ko San, after Moscow rejectedhim because he violated reading rules during training. The spaceflight isthe result of a commercial agreement between the government of South Korea andRussia?s Federal Space Agency.
Her trip will make South Korea the world's 35th country andAsia's sixth to send an astronaut into space.
Expedition 16 was a packed tour aboard the ISS, with fivespacewalks, three visiting shuttle missions and a host of scientificexperiments taking place. The crewmembers helped install the hub-like Harmonyconnecting node, the European Columbus laboratory, a small Japanese storagemodule, and a new Canadian robot on the space station.
"All of this was done very successfully, very safely,with very few issues along the way," said Holly Ridings, Expedition 16lead flight director. "It took a lot of diligence and focus form thisamazing team."
Whitson, the spacestation's first female commander, is the first NASA astronaut to take partin two missions aboard the ISS. Her first stay was as a flight engineer on2002's Expedition 5.
"A lot of the credit for how well it's gone goes tocommander Peggy Whitson," Ridings said. "She really is the drive andthe force behind all of those things happening on orbit on time and better thanwe could ever hope for."
The rookie crew of Expedition 17 has one spacewalkscheduled. The cosmonauts also plan to help install a new large pressurized modulefor the Japanese Kibo laboratory, set to arrive in June, and get the stationready to host larger six-person crews starting in early 2009.
Though a rookie cosmonaut himself, Volkov has spaceflying inhis blood. His father, Alexander Volkov, was also a cosmonaut, and visited Russia?sMir space station.
The Expedition 17 crew's arrival will come just five daysafter the planned docking tomorrow at 10:40 a.m. ET (1440 GMT) of the JulesVerne unmanned cargo ship.
"It?s a great time to be part of the InternationalSpace Station program," Shireman said.
- VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge
- NEW VIDEO: "Jules" heads to the ISS
- Complete Space Station Mission Coverage