A Russianspacecraft ferrying two cosmonauts and South Korea?s first spaceflyer to theInternational Space Station (ISS) is on track for its planned Thursday arrivalat the high-flying laboratory.
The SoyuzTMA-12 spacecraft is set to dock at an Earth-facing berth on the spacestation?s Russian-built Pirs docking compartment today at about 9:00 a.m. EDT(1300 GMT) to end a two-day orbital chase that began with a successfulTuesday launch.
Ridingaboard the Soyuz are Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov, flight engineerOleg Kononenko and South Korean astronaut So-yeon Yi, who plan to spend justover a week conducting experiments and swapping out the station?s current crew.All three are making their first spaceflight.
"Thecrew, including the Korean female astronaut, So-yeon Yi, are feeling well andall of them are coping normally with zero gravity," a medical spokesmanfor Russia?s space station Mission Control told the Russian Interfax NewsAgency.
Volkov andKononenko will replace the station?s current Expedition 16 commander PeggyWhitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko during a nine-daycrew change aboard the orbiting lab. The third member of their crew, NASA astronautGarrett Reisman, is already onboard the station as an Expedition 16 flightengineer and will stay on to join the new six-month mission.
?Usually,the handover is very busy,? said Volkov, a second-generationcosmonaut whose father Alexander flew missions to Soviet and Russian spacestations in the 1980s and early 1990s, in a NASA interview.
Theastronauts are due to open the hatches between their two spacecraft at about 11:50 a.m.EDT (1540 GMT).
Whitson andMalenchenko are wrapping up their own six-month mission and will return toEarth on April 19 with Yi, a 29-year-old mechanical and bioengineer who isvisiting the station under a commercial arrangement between South Korea andRussia?s Federal Space Agency. Yi?s nearly 11-day spaceflight is packed withexperiments and events to commemorate her role as South Korea?s first astronaut.
?Becausethe Korean cosmonaut is going to be with us ? we expect, from the Korean side,a lot of experiments,? Volkov said, adding that he and Malenchenko will likelyparticipate in them. ?It [will] keep us, every time, busy.?
Selectedfrom a field of 36,000 applicants, Yi was initially chosen as South Korea?sbackup spaceflyer. She moved to the prime crew last month after the country?sastronaut frontrunner, artificial intelligence expert San Ko, was pulled fromflight status by Russian space officials due to reading rule violations.
Yi has adedicated science experiment program and has said she plans to sharetraditional Korean cuisine with her station crewmates and sing to them on April12, which is celebrated as Cosmonautics Day in Russia to commemorate theanniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin?s 1961 spaceflight that inaugurated theera of human spaceflight.
Yi and theExpedition 17 crew are the latest new visitors bound for the space station.
Just lastweek, the Expedition 16 crew welcomed the arrival of the European SpaceAgency?s firstunmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne, a massive cargo ship thesize of a London double-decker bus. A week before that, the astronauts bidadieu to NASA?s space shuttle Endeavour crew after a record 12 days of jointconstruction work that delivered Reisman, a Canadian maintenance robot anda Japanese storage room to the orbital outpost.
?So it?s avery exciting time with lots of people coming and going as you can tell,?Reisman said in a NASA interview.
Russia's Interfax News Agency contributed to this report.
NASAwill broadcast the docking of Expedition 17 with the ISS live on NASA TVThursday, April 10 beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feedand live ISS mission updates.
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