updated 3/25/2009 7:52:53 PM ET 2009-03-25T23:52:53

The Russian-American team set to blast off to the international space station said Wednesday that doubling the station's permanent crew will make life more cramped but will further scientific research.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and American astronaut Michael Barratt will be part of the new six-person crew aboard the station, doubling the crew's previous size.

Padalka and Barratt, along with U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi, blast off Thursday aboard a Soyuz space capsule from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

At their final news conference, the space travelers said the burden of cramped living conditions and increased workload will be offset by the potential benefits for science.

"It makes things more complex, of course," Barratt said.

"But the basic idea is that we need six people to adequately man the station and to get the science out of it," he said, adding the new arrangements would more closely replicate conditions on lunar bases or missions to Mars.

Extra flight activity around the craft and additional spacewalks will also complicate their lives, Padalka said.

The crew increase means Simonyi, a Hungarian-born software developer who will spend 13 days aboard the station, is to be the station's last tourist for the foreseeable future.

The other seats will be occupied by representatives of Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency — partners of the U.S. and Russia in the station project.

Barratt joked of possible communication hazards with such a diverse crew.

"A sentence could start in Russian, end in English, and I'm afraid by the end of our expedition it could also include elements of Japanese and French," he said.

Thursday's blastoff will be attended by the crew members' wives, girlfriends and relatives, including Simonyi's wife, Swede Lisa Persdotter.

The U.S. space shuttle Discovery and its seven-person crew was scheduled to undock from the orbiting station later Wednesday and begin its journey back to Earth.

Discovery will be bringing back five months' worth of scientific experiments from the station. The shuttle also is bringing back about one gallon (four to five liters) of recycled water made from astronauts' urine and condensation. NASA wants to make sure the water is safe before space station astronauts start drinking it up there.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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