An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut are preparingto blast off from their home planet Sunday to fly to the International SpaceStation next week.
Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke and flight engineerYury Lonchakov, both veteran spaceflyers, are due to launchOct. 12 aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft from the BaikonurCosmodrome spaceport in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. They will bejoined on the journey by American space tourist Richard Garriott.
Fincke and Lonchakov both plan to stay aboard the orbiting outpostfor about six months and help outfit the lab to hostsix-person crews, effectively doubling the size of the three-member teamsit currently houses.
They will join NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, currentlyworking aboard the space station as part of Expedition 17, who will serve as anExpedition 18 flight engineer. Later, Chamitoff is set to switch spots withAmerican astronaut Sandy Magnus, due to arrive at the station aboard the spaceshuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission in November. Next year, Magnus is slated toswap places with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut KoichiWakata, who will fly to the station on the space shuttle Discovery's STS-119mission in February 2009.
An astronaut with a calling
A colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Fincke,41, grew up in Emsworth, Pa., and holds masters degrees inaeronautics and astronautics, as well as in planetary geology. He was selectedas a NASA astronaut candidate in 1996.
"Some people refer to it asa calling, a vocation," Fincke said in a NASA interview. "And thatwas it. As soon as I saw astronauts, my senior colleagues walking on the moon,flying aboard Skylab, the early shuttle missions, I just knew that that?s whatI wanted to do, and I was very fortunate to have that opportunity."
After his first taste of spaceflight, asa flight engineer on the space station?s Expedition9 mission in 2004, Fincke said he knew he wanted to go back. This time,however, he'll have the added role of mission commander.
"This time around, I'mgoing to be spending a lot of time looking at the overall mission and makingsure that my crew is given everything they need to so that they can do theirjob effectively, as well as make sure the ground team is happy," he told SPACE.com."It's going to be tricky, but fortunately we have such a good relationshipin our crew and with the ground teams already that I think it's going to gosmoothly. We have such good working relationships that it's going to be a lotof fun along the way."
Fincke is married to wife Renita, and has three children: 7-year-old son Chandra, 4-year-olddaughter Tarali and new baby daughter Surya, about 7 months old. Their names translateto "moon," "star," and "sun," respectively.
"They're definitelythe reasons why I even bother to come back from flying into space," Finckesaid.
While being away from his family will be difficult, he saidthere is one upside.
"I have three young children at home, and it?s a verynoisy home and I don't get much sleep," he said jokingly. "I'm notcomplaining whatsoever though, it's my joy. However, I am looking forward tothe quiet time aboard the space station, and getting a chance to relax and reada little bit."
The son of Russian geologists, Lonchakov, 43, grew up in Aktyubinsk, Kazakhstan, where hisparents were conducting research. He is married to wife Tatyana, and they haveone son.
Once as a young student, Lonchakovvisited Star City, where Russian cosmonauts train, and the experience inspiredhim to pursue his own goal of flying in space.
"I made myself a promise that I will one day become aprofessional astronaut, so this was my dream from the early years and now I amvery happy that this dream is coming true for the third time," Lonchakov saidin a NASA interview.
A pilot in the Russian Air Force, Lonchakov joined Russia?stest cosmonaut ranks in 1997 and flew aboard the shuttle Endeavour's STS-100mission to the space station in 2001. He later spent about 10 days aboard the stationin 2002 via a Soyuzflight.
He said he is looking forward to his first long-durationmission, especially since he feels so comfortable with the crew.
"It?s [full of] very professional people and verynice," he told SPACE.com. "Yes, our training is certainly easybecause I?ve known Michael Fincke a long time, and I know Koichi and Sandy noproblem. I know them like family."
The multinational Expedition 18 crew exemplifies the spiritof international collaboration that Lonchokov said he values in the InternationalSpace Station program.
"I think the very name, International Space Station,already is self-explaining in that from the very first elements of this stationwe saw international crews operating the outpost, Americans, Russians,Europeans, Japanese," he said. "So what we?re seeing is theinternational project shaping up in space in the interests of the entiremankind, of the human progress, and this is, and this is great not only for usas a spaceflight professionals, both in space and on the ground, but also forthe future of humanity."
The Expedition 18 crew is set to launch into space onSunday, Oct. 12 at 3:01 a.m. EDT (0701 GMT). NASA will broadcast the launchlive via NASA TV. Click here forSPACE.com?s NASA TV feed and space station mission updates.
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