The final countdown has begun to launch the jubilee mission to the International Space Station, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight. In honor of the occasion, the mission’s Soyuz TMA-21 ship was named after Yuri Gagarin.
The jubilee crew includes two Russian cosmonauts - captain Alexander Samokutyayev and engineer Andrei Borisenko - as well as NASA astronaut Ronald Garan. They will join current space station residents Paolo Nespoli from Italy, Catherine Coleman from the US and Russia’s Dmitry Kondratyev, who have been working in orbit for over three months already.
Dmitry Kondratyev is keeping a blog where he posted the following update: “Despite lots of work, we’ve been preparing to welcome the new crew over the last few days. After the docking, the ISS crew will once again comprise six people. There will never be a dull moment given the amount of work left.” According to Dmitry, the current ISS crew is doing its best to create the best-possible conditions for their colleagues. “We prepared rooms at the Russian and American segments and fixed the communal room table so that it can eat six,” the Russian cosmonaut writes in his blog. To help the newcomers better orient themselves inside the station, ISS residents even hung several signs pointing to the location of modules and ships.
"The Soyuz spacecraft set to deliver the jubilee expedition is decorated with an image of Yuri Gagarin," project manager Alexander Kozlovsky said.
"The portrait of Yuri Gagarin will become visible over the landing trapdoor after the payload fairing detaches. This is a colored image applied with special ink. While it is docking with the station, the crew will take several pictures of the ship," Alexander Kozlovsky explained.
The jubilee crew will spend nearly half a year in orbit before they return to Earth in autumn this year. "The mission’s program includes a number of scientific experiments," engineer Andrei Borisenko says.
"One of the experiments has been dubbed “Hurricane” and is concerned with forecasting possible natural calamities in different parts of our planet, as well as assessing the damage and the aftermath of such disasters if they happen after all," Andrei Borisenko elaborated.
There were quite a number of jokes at the press conference ahead of the launch testifying to the crew’s high spirits. For instance, members of the mission are ready for extraterrestrial encounters, according to Andrei Borisenko:
"If we are lucky to become the first messengers of Earth to come into contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, we will be governed by common sense and live up to the occasion," Andrei Borisenko said.
American Ronald Garan also prepared a surprise for journalists: assisted by other crewmembers, he recited a piece of poetry from Mikhail Lermontov, whose name is also connected with a memorable date this year, which marks the 170th anniversary of his fatal duel. In a sign of respect for Lermontov’s work, the crew chose Tarkhany (the village where the poet grew up) as their call sign.
The launch of the jubilee mission is scheduled for 2:18 a.m. Moscow time on April 5th from the Baikonur spaceport. It was the launch pad for the world’s first manned spaceflight performed by Yuri Gagarin half a century ago.