December 15, 2010

Soyuz Launch Scheduled For Wednesday Afternoon

Preparations were underway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Wednesday morning as a trio of crew members were set to begin a five-month mission onboard the International Space Station (ISS) at 2:09pm EST (1:09am on Thursday Baikonur time).

NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Roscosmos cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, and European Space Agency (ESA) flight engineer Paolo Nespoli will man the Soviet manufactured Soyuz TMA-20 craft, which is set to dock with the ISS shortly after 3pm EST on Friday. They will join Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka onboard the station.

According to Peter Leonard of the Associated Press (AP), Coleman, Kondratyev, and Nespoli "put aside last-minute jitters about their craft" during their final preparations on Wednesday morning. Those concerns step from the re-entry module of the Soyuz TMA-20, which Leonard reports "was hastily replaced earlier this month after it was damaged during unloading at the Baikonur."

"All the procedures needed to check the integrity of the ship have been completed, and all those have shown positive results," Kondratyev told reporters during a pre-launch news conference, according to the AP. "We have absolutely no doubts about the reliability of the craft and that the flight will take place as planned."

Meanwhile, on board the ISS, NASA's website reported that Kelly, Kaleri, and Skripochka "tackled a variety of research and maintenance tasks Tuesday" while waiting for the arrival of their new crew members.

The US space agency reported that Kelly completed routine maintenance on a weightlifting machine used to simulate gravitational pull and made preparations for the arrival of the Japanese HTV-2 transfer module in January, while Kaleri and Skripochka conducted experiments related to working in weightless condition and the effects of lengthy space travel on an astronaut's cardiovascular system.

According to Leonard, the crew will also mark the 50th anniversary of the first human flight into space in April 2011. That celebration, which will honor the achievement of Yuri Gagarin, will be a "very special day," Coleman told reporters, adding that he and his associated would not "be walking on the pages of history, we'll be floating."


Image Caption: The Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft is seen shortly after arrival to the launch pad Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz is scheduled to launch the crew of Expedition 26 on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010, at 2:09 p.m. to begin life aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi


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