New Space Station Crew Poised for Tuesday Launch

Crew Swap Ahead For Space Station
The crew of the ISS Expedition 17 and Taxi Mission 14, Commander Sergei Volkov, Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, and Spaceflight Participant So-yeon Yi, have entered into their final training phase. (Image credit: AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Two rookiecosmonauts and South Korea?s first spaceflyer are poised to ride a Russianrocket into orbit early Tuesday on a mission to the International Space Station(ISS).

The SoyuzTMA-12 spacecraft carrying cosmonauts Sergei Volkov, Oleg Kononenko and SouthKorean engineer So-Yeon Yi is set to lift off atop a Russian booster at 7:16a.m. EDT (1116 GMT) from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan. The spaceflyers are due to dock at the station on Thursday during a10-daycrew change.

?Actually,we are ready for all the scheduled events of our flight,? said Volkov, who is thefirstsecond-generation spaceflyer to launch and will command the station?sExpedition 17 mission, in an interview.

Volkov andKononenko, an ISS flight engineer, plan to spend six months aboard the spacestation during their mission, which will feature the addition of a tourbus-sized Japanese laboratory and at least one spacewalk. The cosmonauts will relievethe station?s current core crew - Expedition16 commander Peggy Whitson of NASA and Russian flight engineer YuriMalenchenko - and join their third crewmate, U.S. astronaut Garrett Reisman,who is already aboard the station.

Yi, SouthKorea?s first astronaut, is flying a 10-day spaceflight under a commercialagreement between her country and Russia?s Federal Space Agency. She will joinWhitson and Malenchenko when they return to Earth on April 19.

Like father, like son

For Volkov,35, rockets and space stations are all in the family. His father is AlexanderVolkov, 59, a veteran cosmonaut who spent 391 days in space during threespaceflights, one to Russia?s Salyut 7 station and two to the subsequent MirSpace Station, during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

?I think I?m[a] cosmonaut of another generation,? Volkov said in a NASA interview. ?For me,spaceflights were sort of a common thing.?

It wasn?tuntil attending summer camp in his youth, when those around him peppered himabout his father - who was named a Hero of the Soviet Union and awarded theOrder of Lenin - that he realized there might be more to life as a cosmonaut.

Born in Chuguyevin the Kharkov region of Ukraine, the younger Volkov is married to wife Nataliaand has a seven-year-old son. Unlike some other cosmonauts, he grew up in StarCity - home of Russia?s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center - and served as apilot and engineer in the Russian Air Force before qualifying as a testcosmonaut in 1999.

?To be acosmonaut was my personal decision,? Volkov said, adding that his father wasunaware of the fact until he was told. Like his father, Volkov trained forlong-duration spaceflights and was named Soyuz and Expedition 17 commander in2006.

Volkov hassince discussed his coming spaceflight with his father, who gave him tips forlife in Earth orbit and on the finer points of spacewalking.

?For mepersonally, to be a second generation astronaut it?s pretty hard and there?s alot of pressure,? Volkov said, adding that he expects comparisons between hisfirst spaceflight and his father?s legacy. ?My goal is to be at least as [good]as my father.?

A borncosmonaut

Unlike hiscommander, Kononenko has no family ties with Russia?s cosmonaut corps, but hedid get hooked on spaceflight early.

?It seemsto me that I was born thinking that I must become a cosmonaut,? Kononenko, 43,said in a NASA interview. ?[A]s far back as I can remember myself, I alwayswanted to become a cosmonaut.?

Born inChardzhow, Turkmenistan, Kononenko is married to wife Tatiana and has 4 1/2-year-oldtwins, Alisa and Andrey. He joined Russian Space Agency?s Central SpecializedDesign Bureau as a mechanical engineer in 1988, worked his way up to a leaddesign engineer position and was selected for cosmonaut training in 1996.

Kononenkosaid he is looking forward to the frenetic pace of traffic at the ISS duringExpedition 17, which includes a brief Soyuz flight to swap docking ports, thearrival of several cargo ships, a NASA shuttle and Japanese laboratory, and thedeparture of Europe?scargo ship Jules Verne.

?I thinkwhat I am looking forward to the most is acquiring that experience that willmake part of all the real cosmonauts,? he said in an interview, adding that it?stime to put his rigorous training into practice. ?I?m looking forward to mynext flight after this, and perhaps even to future missions to the moon and onto Mars.?

SouthKorea?s first in space

Originallyselected as South Korea?s backup astronaut, Yi movedto the prime crew last month when Russia pulled her crewmate San Ko, 31,from flight status due to reading rule violations. Ko, an artificialintelligence expert, is now serving as her backup, Russian spaceflightofficials have said.

Accordingto press reports, Yi, 29, hails from Kwangju and is a mechanical engineer bytraining, with bachelor?s and master?s degrees in the field, as well as a bioengineering from the state-run Korea Advanced Institute for Science andTechnology. She and Ko joined the Korea Aerospace Research Institute once theywere selected from a field of 36,000 applicants to become their nation?s firstastronaut.

Yi?s 10-dayspaceflight stems from a reported $25 million deal between South Korea andRussia. She is expected to perform 14 experiments aboard the space station thatinclude cell and crystal growth studies, as well as educational events.

In a March19 press briefing with reporters in Star City, Russia, Yi reportedly said thatshe had more than pure science in store for her crewmates aboard the ISS. Shewill also take traditional Korean food for the station astronauts and may evensing, the Associated Press reported.

Russia?s InterfaxNews Agency reported that Yi said she also hoped to promote interest inscience among her nation?s youth, as well as help ease long-standing tensionsbetween North and South Korea.

"As a citizen of mycountry, as the first Korean astronaut, I will promote the development ofrelations between our two countries, if anything depends on me," Interfaxquoted Yi as saying.

NASA will broadcast thelaunch of Expedition 17 toward the ISS live on NASA TV. Click here for NASA TV feedand live ISS mission updates.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.