May 26, 2009

ISS Crew Set To Expand Following Tomorrow’s Launch

Three astronauts are preparing for a journey to the recently expanded International Space Station on Wednesday.

The crew, consisting of Belgian Frank de Winne, Canadian Robert Thirsk and Russian Roman Romanenko will launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 5:34 am (1034 GMT) from Baikonur cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppe in Russia.

The three astronauts will double the ISS crew to six members after a decade of installations to expand the orbiting outpost's facilities. Upgrades include the addition of a European laboratory last year and the arrival of a hi-tech Japanese lab, Kibo, which is still in progress.

Also, a new solar array has been installed to offer more power for the outpost's expanded crew.

The new crewmembers will also be among the first to try out a new machine aboard the ISS that recycles urine into drinking water.

The launch also marks an increased frequency in Russian manned missions.

Upon arrival to the ISS, the astronauts will be greeted by Russian Gennady Padalka, US astronaut Michael Barratt and Japan's Koichi Wakata.

According to AFP, the station is also "intended to test the effects of long-term space travel on humans, with a view to more ambitious travel to destinations such as Mars."

Romanenko voiced his plans to build a larger eating table for the crew.

"Lunch is a ritual process in orbit," he said at Russia's cosmonaut training centre, Star City.

"With our arrival we will for the first time be six. So we will need to engineer another table," he told AFP.

With the US planning to scrap its space shuttle program, the Russian Soyuz is expected to be the only method of reaching the ISS for a few years.

The current mission will be the first time astronauts from all five of the partners in the ISS -- Canada, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, Russia and the United States -- are in orbit together.

"This is the first for Europe that there will be an ESA astronaut commanding the international space station, and that's of course very important for ESA, our European agency, which has invested a lot in the international space station," De Winne said.

"I think for us to expand our frontiers in space, international cooperation is essential," Wakata said in a preflight interview. "The ISS project has demonstrated that it's possible."


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