Three astronauts set to launch on a Soyuz rocket will bring a new era to the International Space Station by doubling the permanent crew size. Also, for the first time all the ISS partners will be represented on board the station at once as astronauts from NASA, CSA, ESA, JAXA and Russia will be part of the first six-person permanent crew. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:34 p.m. local time (1034 GMT; 0634 EDT) Wednesday from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz TMA-15 capsule is expected to dock with the space station about two days later.
On board the Soyuz will be a truly international contingent, with Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, and Belgium’s Frank De Winne. They will join the current crew of the orbiting laboratory: Russia’s Gennady Padalka, U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt and Japan’s Koichi Wakata.
Thirsk called the expansion from a three-person to a six-person crew a “milestone” and said one of their goals was “to prove the station can support six people for a long duration.”
“This is the most international crew we’ve ever had” said Courtenay McMillan, Expedition 20 lead flight director. “It opens up a lot more possibilities and lets us schedule more science. We also have a lot more maintenance activities that can be done. Having six people on board does present a bit of challenge in communications with the ground, as we have twice as many people but no more ‘phone lines’, but folks are getting creative. We’ve learned a lot from the handover periods.”
A current crew of three typically has only about 20 hours a week to devote to science, but with six crew members, ISS officials hope to nearly triple the amount of time spent on science experiments. “This is a big transition from where we have been short on time. Now we have time,” said McMillan. “The crew has been very active in working with science community, ground control teams and to take advantage of the time we have.” McMillan added that the crew will have the ability to do not just new science, but doing additional runs on science that is up on board the station now.”
The last few shuttle missions to the ISS and Progress re-supply ships have been bringing up enough supplies to accommodate the increase in crew size. Now that the urine recycling system is working well, food is the biggest consumable the crews have had to stockpile.
“We have good margins on consumables,” said McMillan. ” We’ve piled up more margin than we usually do, to protect against flight slips. NASA said there is enough supplies on board that the crew could have enough to eat though October, even if no shuttles or Russian ships made it to the station. However two shuttle missions and two Soyuz capsules are scheduled to arrive at the station before the end of October.