March 25, 2009

Crewmembers Privileged To Be A Part Of Upcoming Launch

The two astronauts set to take over the International Space Station (ISS) this week said on Wednesday they felt privileged to be part of the space station crew that will increase to six members in May, the AFP reported.

Both Michael Barratt and Gennady Padalka said before launch at the Baikonur cosmodrome that their mission marked a new phase in the history of the ISS.

The two astronauts spoke to the press from behind a glass screen in order to prevent any crew infections ahead of the launch.

"The station is very large and complex and it was designed to produce a lot of science, to be a large, complex laboratory," said Barratt.

He said the basic idea is that the ISS needs six people to adequately man the station and the current crew was looking forward to the three additional members.

The space station, some 220 miles above the Earth, has had a permanent crew of three supplemented by additional crew during shorter missions.

Thanks to an additional launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome, three more permanent crewmembers will arrive in May this year.

Russian astronaut Padalka also described feeling "very lucky" to be part of the station's expansion.

Additionally, American space tourist and software billionaire Charles Simonyi, who is making his second trip to the space station and has paid 35 million dollars for the privilege, will accompany the two crewmembers on the two-day space flight.

Padalka and Barratt will be spending six months aboard the station. Padalka will take over as the station's commander, while Barratt handles flight engineer duties.

Officials have said that Simonyi's 10-day trip into space will likely be the last voyage by a paying "tourist" aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, as the station has gradually been expanded with additional laboratory facilities, living space and support facilities for more researchers.

This month also saw the arrival of a new set of solar arrays to power the station into the future.

The station is seen as a test bed for further human space travel, possibly to Mars.

Barratt said it would probably require crews of six or so living together for long periods of time to make preparations for a Mars spacewalk.


Image Caption: Crewmembers the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft at Site-254 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, few days before their liftoff in March 2009. Credit: NASA


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