A Russian cosmonaut doctor, a veteran Japanese astronaut and a rookie American spaceflyer are poised to blast off Sunday for the International Space Station.
The three spaceflyers are slated to launch Dec. 20 at 4:51 p.m. EST on the Russian Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They will spend about two days catching up to the space station, where they plan to dock Tuesday.
The trio will join space station Expedition 22 commander Jeff Williams, a NASA astronaut, and flight engineer Maxim Suraev, a Russian cosmonaut, onboard the station. Williams and Suraev have been in space since October, and have been the only two people aboard the orbiting laboratory since Dec. 1.
NASA astronaut Timothy (T.J.) Creamer will be making his first trip to space. Creamer is a former U.S. army aviator who hails from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. He was selected as an astronaut in 1998.
"Floating to me is something I'm looking forward to doing," he told SPACE.com.
Creamer will also serve as a flight engineer on the Expedition 22 crew. He has been writing about his experiences preparing for the flight on the microblogging site Twitter under the name "Astro_TJ," and plans to continue tweeting while in space.
"Ok folks, it's about 0300 local," Creamer wrote on Thursday. "Yes we are time shifting in preps for launch, but now am pooped."
Creamer's hobbies include sports — especially tennis — but not singing.
"If Soichi makes me try to sing karaoke onboard that would be challenging," he said. "Soichi's got a good voice by the way. Actually there is karaoke software on one of the computers. If they heard me singing, they'd probably make us do an emergency descent."
Creamer is also married with two children.
A doctor in space
Veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, a medical doctor, will command the voyage. Kotov graduated from Russia's Kirov Military Medical Academy, and served as a test doctor at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center before being selected as a spaceflyer in 1996.
"I [will be] the designated crew medical officer aboard the station," Kotov told SPACE.com. "I [will] help them to feel better."
Kotov previously flew to the orbiting laboratory in 2007, when he served as an Expedition 15 flight engineer for about six months.
Since then, the station has grown both in size and population: While the outpost used to host crews of three, it now accommodates six-member crews.
"Having more people to communicate with is an advantage — working together is good," Kotov said. While there are some small issues involved in coordinating such a large cohort in space, Kotov said he was looking forward to it. "For me, I don't think this is a huge problem."
Kotov plans to join Expedition 22 as a flight engineer, and then take over as Expedition 23 commander in March 2010.
He is married and has two children.
Soichi Noguchi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is also making his second trip to space. He previously flew on the STS-114 flight of the space shuttle Discovery in 2005.
In March 2010, Noguchi plans to welcome Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki aboard the station when she arrives with the visiting STS-131 space shuttle mission.
"This is the first time ever that two Japanese [astronauts] are in space, so we're really looking forward to it," Noguchi said.
Noguchi has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering, and worked to design commercial airplane engines before being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996. Noguchi is slated to serve as an Expedition 22 flight engineer.
While in space he hopes to stay in touch with home traditions.
"If it's possible I'd like to do some Japanese cooking," he said.
Noguchi and his wife have two children.
"There is no non-Mars item that I could point to and say 'that was cut due to MSL,'" Bagenal said. "Certainly, elements of the Mars program have been hit hard."
Perhaps one way to look at the issue is to think about all the planetary science one might have done with MSL's $400 million-plus overrun to date, Bagenal observed. "That's a whole Discovery or Mars-Scout mission, or twice the annual total Research & Analysis budget," she concluded.