Thursday, April 01, 2010

Russian rocket ready for launch

In less than an hour a Russian Soyuz will head to the International Space Station carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.

Liftoff is scheduled for 12:04 a.m. Friday from Russia's storied Baikonur Cosmodrome in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

California native Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a former shuttle pilot, and Russian Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko will arrive at the International Space Station early Easter Sunday.

Their arrival will boost the International Space Station's population to six. That number will more than double when space shuttle Discovery and its seven-person crew arrive next week.

Watch NASA TV’s live coverage of the event by clicking on the NASA TV box at the right to launch the video player.

The crew is due to stay on board the space station until mid-September, leaving the lab just as Shuttle Discovery sets off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the last-ever shuttle flight.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Caldwell Dyson spoke of her sadness at seeing the retirement of the shuttle fleet.

"It's bitter, because we're saying goodbye to such a tremendous part of our space program," she said. "We've spent more time in that shuttle than we have in any vehicle and it has blessed with a space station today and many experienced astronauts."

The Soyuz crew will join Russian commander Igor Kotov, NASA astronaut Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of Japan on board the station.

With the winding-down of the shuttle, the Soyuz — which launched the world's first satellite into space in 1957 — is set to take on the burden of carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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