December 4, 2009

Astronauts Looking Forward To ‘Space Sushi’

As an international trio of astronauts prepares for a short trip to the International Space Station later this month, they took a time-out this week from their busy training schedule at the Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow to talk with reporters about some the finer details of the mission.

"We can't wait for when Soichi makes us sushi!" said US astronaut Timothy Creamer, referring to his Japanese colleague and crewmate Soichi Noguchi and his plans to prepare a "space sushi" dinner for the team once in orbit.

For Creamer, a US Army colonel and NASA engineer, the December 21 mission will be his first flight to space.  Together with Noguchi and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, the team is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan for a brief two-day sojourn to the ISS.

The crew will blast-off in a Soyuz spacecraft, one of a series of Russian-designed vessels originally introduced in the 1960's as part of the Soviet Manned Lunar program.  Though the astronauts will have to pack themselves like sardines into the infamously cramped space capsule, they say 40-year-old design has stood the test of time and proven itself dependable.

"The Soyuz is a very reliable and time-tested space shuttle," said Noguchi to the RIA-Novisti news agency.

"I really like its design and I am sure that our flight on it will be without incident."

Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, who holds the country's national record for most time spent in space, returned on Tuesday from a six-month stay aboard the ISS.  His crew also traveled aboard a Soyuz vessel, and at a recent press conference he described his spectacular re-entry experience aboard the spacecraft.

"In the last 20 minutes before landing, the shuttle shook violently and plasma fire could be seen out the window. The feeling was 10 times stronger than all of my expectations!" said Thirsk.

Despite the vivid descriptions that would for many seem more nightmarish than exciting, Thirsk said that landing and re-entry aboard the Soyuz was for him "the most interesting and dynamic part" of the entire voyage.

Since the return of Thirsk's three-man crew this week"”which included Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko"”the ISS has been operated by a skeleton-crew of two.  American Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Surayev will be responsible for holding down the proverbial fort until their colleagues arrive later this month.


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