AnAmerican astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are poised to launch to theInternational Space Station tonight on a Russian rocket.
Thetrio is slated to lift off Thursday (Oct. 7) at 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) fromKazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.The spaceflyers will ride a new model of thetried-and-true Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the TMA-01M, which features newguidance, navigation, control and data processing systems, and an improvedcooling device for the electronics.
Thecrew is launching just days after the 53rd anniversary of the launch ofSputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, which occurred on Oct. 4, 1957.Indeed, their Soyuz will even blast off from the very same launch pad.
NASAastronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka areset to take up long-term posts as members of the station's Expedition 25 crew. Kellyhas a twin brother, Mark, who is also an astronaut and is due to fly aboardthe space shuttle Endeavour on the STS-134 mission in February.
Thenew station crew is set to dock at the orbiting outpost's rooftop Poisk moduleon Saturday at 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT Sunday). They will join the outpost'sexisting Expedition 25 crew ? station commander Doug Wheelock of NASA andflight engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia and Shannon Walker of NASA. [Video:NASA's Identical Twin Astronauts]
InNovember, half of the station's crew will return to Earth and Kelly will takecommand of the outpost to begin the Expedition 26 mission.
"It?sa real privilege to be part of this crew and to be part of something that hasbeen such a successful program to date ? the InternationalSpace Station," Kelly said during a recent press briefing. "We'refinishing up the assembly of the space station and it's really time to startramping up the science we do."
Duringtheir mission, the crew will participate in a wide array of research, includingfundamental physics, biometric experiments and investigations of crystal growthin space, as well as education outreach.
Kellyand Kaleri are both veteran spaceflyers ? Kelly flewon two space shuttle missions and Kaleri has traveled to space four timesbefore ? while Skripochka is making his first spaceflight.
"I'mlooking forward to my first spaceflight," Skripochka told SPACE.com in apreflight interview. "Especially because the program for our flight is full of many events."
Thecrew is scheduled to oversee the visits of two shuttle flights ? the February2011 trip of Endeavour, plus an earlier flight by the space shuttle Discoveryin November. During their tenure, the station will also host two unmanned cargoship visits ? one from Europe and one from Japan.
Theoverlap of Endeavour's flight and the Expedition 26 mission means that the Kellyastronaut twins will likely rendezvous in space.
"Ifeel pretty confident that we'll meet in space," Scott Kelly said."On a personal level, it will be great to have two shuttles visit whileI'm up there. Having my brother on the last one will make it even more special."
MarkKelly's shuttle flight is currently the lastscheduled shuttle mission, though Congress recently passed a bill toapprove one more flight before the fleet is retired.
Betweenmanaging the space traffic, up-keeping the station and conducting research, thespaceflyers will have their work cut out for them.Plus, they have to deal with some occasional culture clash.
"Eventhough we bring different cultures and different schools of thought anddifferent backgrounds to the work, you have to learn and evolve with time how towork together with the partners," Kaleri said. "This is not just themost difficult but probably the most interesting part of the job as well."
- Graphic: Inside and Out: The International Space Station
- Video: NASA's Identical Twin Astronauts, New Station Crew
- For Astronaut Twin, Launching Into Space Is All In the Family
NASA willbroadcast the upcoming Soyuz spacecraft launch live on NASA TV, beginningat 6:15 p.m. ET. Click here for space station missionupdates and a link to NASA TV.