Next Space Station Crew Eager to Start Mission

By Keith Cowing
February 19, 2004
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Next Space Station Crew Eager to Start Mission

The next crew to occupy the International Space Station met with reporters today in Houston.

The Expedition 9 crew is composed of cosmonaut Genaddy Padalka, who will serve as Expedition Commander, and astronaut Mike Fincke who will serve as NASA Science Officer and Expedition Flight Engineer.

Padalka and Fincke will depart from Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 18th for a 6 month tour of duty on the ISS. Joining in them on their trip up will be European astronaut and medical doctor Andre Kuipers who is from the Netherlands.

Kuipers will spend about a week aboard the space station performing experiments for the European Space Agency before returning to Earth in a Soyuz capsule with the current occupants of the station, Expedition 8 crew Commander Michael Foale and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri.

Padalka and Fincke were originally training for the Expedition 10 flight set for Fall 2004. Last month, in a case of musical astronaut seats, the original Expedition 9 crew was bumped due to what has been loosely referred to as ‘compatibility’ problems by Russian doctors. This was the second change to the make up of the Expedition 9 crew.

The original Expedition 9 crew, named in November 2003, had been composed of Astronaut William McArthur and cosmonaut Valery Tokarev. In January 2004, astronaut Leroy Chiao was named as the Expedition 9 commander due to a medical concern that arose with McArthur. Tokarev remained as part of Expedition 9.

A few weeks later, for reasons never fully described, the Expedition 10 crew was named as the new Expedition 9 crew. In addition, it was announced that Chiao and Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov will now serve as Expedition 10 crew. McArthur and Tokarev will serve as the Expedition 10 backup crew.

The only reason given by NASA in a January press release was that “NASA and its partners continued to evaluate available crew resources for upcoming flights and decided it was optimal to keep teams together. Since Fincke and Padalka had trained together for years, as had Chiao and Sharipov, the partners made the decision to modify the crew assignments.”

While Padalka is a space veteran, having spent 198 days in space aboard Russia’s Mir space station in 1998 and 1999, Fincke describes himself as a “an almost 8 year space rookie” who is eagerly awaiting his first mission. Both men described their working relationship as comfortable and friendly having trained with each other in one capacity or another for nearly 4 years.

“Good things come to those who wait” Fincke told reporters.

According to Padalka “our task is to keep the space station in operational condition until the space shuttle resumes fights again and to maintain a human presence aboard the ISS.”

NASA had been working towards a September 2004 return to flight for the Shuttle fleet with STS-114 followed by STS-121 in November. Both missions will test a variety of new safety systems and will visit the space station.

In Congressional hearings last week, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said that it was doubtful that this schedule would be met.

According to NASA sources the planned launch dates for these two shuttle mission will almost certainly slip to March 2005 for STS-114 and May 2005 for STS-121. As such, the Expedition 9 crew is not likely to ride home on a space shuttle.

“I’d always thought of myself as a Shuttle guy. Now I am a Soyuz guy” Fincke joked.

During their 6 month stay Fincke and Padalka will perform two spacewalks. The first one, to be completed approximately half way through their stay will have the prime task of installing new hardware on the exterior of the Russian built Service Module.

During their spacewalks The crew will add a laser reflector, TV camera, antenna, and docking target so as to allow Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to dock with the space station next fall.

The ATV is a robotic spacecraft designed to carry cargo and experiments to the space station. The ATV will be launched aboard an Ariane V rocket from South America. During their stay the crew will also receive two Russian Progress cargo spacecraft.

The second space walk will involve a variety of maintenance tasks on the exterior of the space station including the retrieval of some experiments which have been exposed to the harsh space environment for a number of years.

In addition to maintenance the Expedition 9 crew will have a variety of scientific experiments to conduct as well.

According to Fincke “we have a lot of science to do. I am excited to be the NASA science officer. A lot of the science we will do will further what the space station has always been about: how humans can live and work in space. Also, this research will support things contained in the President’s vision to go back to the Moon and on to Mars. It will help us understand ho humans can live for a long time on Mars and the Moon.”

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.