An astronaut, a cosmonaut and the first repeat space touristare poised to launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) earlyThursday.
NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Russiancosmonaut Gennady Padalka and paying American billionaire CharlesSimonyi are dueto liftoff Thursday aboard a Soyuz TMA-14 rocket from Kazakhstan's BaikonurCosmodrome at 7:49 a.m. EDT (1149 GMT).
The new station crew and space tourist are launching one dayafter the departure of NASA?sshuttle Discovery, which delivered new solar wings to the orbiting lab tocomplete its power grid.
Commander Padalka and flight engineer Barratt will joinJapanese Space Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, currentlyonboard the ISS, to make up the station's Expedition 19 crew, the lastthree-person crew planned before expanded six-person teams take up residencethis summer. Wakata arrived aboard Discovery and is staying aboard to join thestation?s new crew.
Here?s a look at the space station?s new crew, which willreplace the outpost?s Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke and flightengineer Yury Lonchakov:
Doctor and naval enthusiast
Barratt, a rookie astronaut, is a medical doctorspecializing in aerospace medicine.
"For me it?s quite a dream come true, because havingthat keen interest in how the human body changes in space and being ableeventually to experience it is going to be a wonderful thing," Barratttold SPACE.com in a recent interview.
Barratt is married and has two daughters and three sons. Hesaid he'll be taking up to space a music mix compiled by his children, who eachhave different tastes, including country music, classical, heavy metal, oldies,and Disney tunes (his youngest is 8 years old).
While on the space station, Barratt also plans to assemble amodel of the 18th century tall ship HM Bark Endeavour, after which the NASAspace shuttle Endeavour was named.
"I plan to do some comparisons and contrasts betweenspace voyaging and sea voyaging," Barratt said.
Padalka will be the first spaceflyer to serve as stationcommander twice; he previously commanded the orbiting lab for a six-month stintduring Expedition 9 in 2004. His return to station is a reunion of sorts. DuringExpedition 9, he served alongside the station?s current skipper Fincke, who wasa flight engineer on that mission.
"It?s a big honor for me, to be crew commander for asecond time onboard International Space Station, and at the same time it?s abig responsibility for me, because as a crew commander I need to ensure safety[of the] crew," Padalka said in a preflight interview. "I need toensure ? very comfortable psychological climate, inside the crew and betweencrewmates, because we are supposed to have many nations, and with differentcustoms, mentalities, traditions."
Padalka, who is married and has three daughters, is anexperienced pilot and parachuter.
"He's one of the best spaceflyers and commanders in thebusiness," Barratt said of his crewmate. "I'm lucky enough to be hisflight engineer on the Soyuz."
Padalka and Barratt will be joined for the ride into spaceby American billionaire Charles Simonyi. A software developer and formerMicrosoft executive, Simonyi will become the first civilian to fly to spacetwice, though a $35 million deal with the Russian Federal Space Agency Brokeredby the U.S. firm Space Adventures. For more about Simonyi, clickhere.
Gearing up for more roommates
The Expedition 19 crew will have their work cut out for themsetting the stage to welcome double-sized crews to their orbiting habitat. Theywill host two visiting shuttle missions, STS-127 in May and STS-128 in August,which are set to drop off NASA astronauts Timothy Kopra and Nicole Stott tojoin the space station crew.
Padalka and Barratt have two to three spacewalks planned tohelp prepare the station for the arrival of the Mini Research Module 2, a nodevery similar to the Pirs docking compartment currently in orbit, set to launchon a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in August.
"One of our biggest milestones is increasing to asix-person crew, so there will be a lot going on and all the attendantactivities that go with that, including robotics and EVA, experiments andeverything that makes ISS what it is," Barratt said in a NASA preflightinterview.
Padalka and Barratt are due to stay aboard the station for200 days.
SPACE.com will provide full coverage of Simonyi's secondspace tourist flight and the Expedition 19 mission with reporter Clara Moskowitzand senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updatesand SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
- Video - Expedition 19: Priming ISS for Larger Crew
- New Show - Inside the International Space Station
- Video - Space Tourist Charles Simonyi in Zero G