Two new crew members and one space tourist will depart Russia for the International Space Station on Wednesday, as they replace two current members and begin a six month stay in earth orbit.
Out on historic launch complex 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in the Republic of Kazakhstan, a Russian Soyuz-FG LV rocket will carry two astronauts and one cosmonaut into space from the desert south of Russia.
Astronaut Jeffrey N. Williams and Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev Victorovich will liftoff inside a Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft on September 30th at 3:14 am EDT, to begin a six month stay aboard earth's orbital outpost. Canadian private citizen Guy Laliberté, who paid Russia around $40 million to travel to the station, will stay for two weeks and return home aboard the currently docked Soyuz TMA-14 capsule with cosmonaut Gennady Pedalka and American Michael R. Barrett.
On Sunday morning at about 6:15 am EDT, Williams messaged this reporter from Baikonur, "Our families will land in Baikonur within 15 minutes. The energy level is up with everybody. The next couple of days tend to fly by!"
The 162-foot Soyuz-FG is a three stage rocket which uses twenty RD-107A engines burning a kerosene fuel, plus several vernier engines for steering during the climb to orbit. The Soyuz-FG can carry up to 16,314 pounds of payload into low earth orbit. The rocket's launch mass is 672,410 pounds.
Nine minutes following launch, the trio will arrive in space and begin two days of work to catch up with the Space Station. The Soyuz TMA-16 craft will keep a lower orbit than the station during those first days to assist in catching up with and later dock on October 2 at 4:37 am EDT.
Once aboard their new home in space, Williams and Victorovich will begin ten days of work as they learn the layout of the station and transfer their personal items to their sleeping compartments.
Williams will serve as the flight engineer during the new Expedition 21 crew which begins on October 11, and later serve as the commander for the Expedition 22 crew beginning on November 30th.
Born in 1958, Williams had been to Earth's orbital outpost twice before logging nearly 194 days in earth orbit, and having performed three spacewalks in support of servicing the station. He was a crew member during the Expedition 13 rotation in 2006.
Russian cosmonaut Victorovich is a colonel in the Russian Air Force and has spent just over 11 years training for this -- his first space flight. He will serve as flight engineer during Expeditions 21 and 22. Of note, in 2007, he received a law degree from the Russian Academy of Civil Service. He will become the first lawyer to travel into space.
And, if Victorovich will become the first lawyer in space, his fellow crew mate will likely become the first clown in space.
First time space flier Laliberté was born in Quebec, Canada in 1959 and early on developed a very comical and entertaining nature about himself. So much in fact that he created the iconic Cirque du Soleil -- an international circus which features many performances from circus' around the globe.
Laliberté has stated recently that he will carry a clown's red nose and perform a type of circus performance on the station in which he hopes the followers of Cirque will enjoy. Performing in microgravity could present a challenge to this performer, however he likes the fact that free falling in space does not require a net.
During Williams and Victorovich's six months aboard, they will see several spacecraft come and go beginning with a Russian Progress M supply craft on October 17th. One month later, the space shuttle Atlantis is set to arrive on a supply mission. Another shuttle flight this February will see one of the final modules docked to the station -- Tranquility.
Williams and Victorovich are scheduled to serve aboard the space station through March 2010.
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