NASA file
In a 2001 photo, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Michael Fincke pose as part of the backup crew for the STS-108 shuttle mission. Russian space officials say Padalka and Fincke may be the next long-term residents of the international space station.
updated 2/5/2004 1:51:12 AM ET 2004-02-05T06:51:12

U.S. and Russian space officials are considering changing the crew of the next mission to the international space station, a Russian space official said Wednesday.

The proposed change came after NASA decided to replace astronaut William McArthur with Leroy Chiao, citing unspecified health reasons, said Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. Valery Tokarev was to be the Russian on the mission, slated to begin April 19.

Instead of the Chiao-Tokarev team, the agencies are now likely to send Michael Fincke and Gennady Padalka, who have spent considerable time training together, Gorbunov said.

“The reason is simple: the crew is a single, united organism,” Gorbunov said. “They must understand each other, including at a psychological level.”

He said the change is expected to be approved in the next few days. Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers from the European Space Agency is expected to fill the third seat in the Soyuz spacecraft flight to the space station. But he would spend only a week at the station.

The station has been limited to two full-time residents since last year’s suspension of the U.S. space shuttle program in the wake of the Columbia disaster, which left the Soyuz as the only vehicle to take astronauts to and from the station.

Switching the crews would change the scientific programs to be conducted aboard the station, Valery Bogomolov, deputy director of the Institute of Medical Biological Problems, told the Itar-Tass news agency.

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