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Unprecedented Times Ahead for the International Space Station
04.28.03
 
Soyuz spacecraftImage to left: Expedition Seven launched onboard the Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

Two go up.

Three come down.

That's the new math NASA and its international partners are using for the latest crew exchange for the International Space Station. And never before in the Station's history have the numbers added up like this.

At 11:59 p.m. EDT Friday, April 25th, NASA Astronaut Ed Lu and Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (mal entch' en co) launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan. These two men make up the Expedition 7 crew, and they'll serve aboard the Station until October. Malenchenko is the Commander while Lu serves as the NASA International Space Station Science Officer. This isn't the first time they've worked together in space. Lu and Malenchenko flew aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis to the Space Station in September 2000 on a mission to help prepare the Station for its first permanent crew. They even performed a spacewalk together during that flight.

Originally, Lu, Malenchenko and another cosmonaut were scheduled to fly to the Station aboard Atlantis in March. But the loss of the Shuttle Columbia February 1 and the grounding of NASA's Shuttle fleet forced a major change of plans. NASA and its partners decided Expedition 7 would have to travel to the Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. And since there aren't going to be any Shuttles bringing water, food and other supplies to the Station anytime soon, the three-person Expedition 7 crew became a two-person crew. In the more than two years that the International Space Station has had inhabitants, it's never had just a two-person crew.

"The only reason we can continue this program is because Russia has the capacity to launch Progress (cargo spacecraft) and Soyuz," says Lu. "It's very important to show the world what we can do together."

Lu and Malenchenko arrived at the Station early Monday morning, April 28. As the hatches between the Space Station and Soyuz opened, the astronaut and cosmonaut were greeted with hugs from Expedition 6 crew they're replacing -- Commander Ken Bowersox, Flight Engineer and Russian Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin (boo-DAH-rin) and International Space Station Science Officer Don Pettit, who have been on the Station since November. The Expedition 6 and 7 crews will spend six days together, transferring supplies and getting the Station's new residents familiar with their new home away from home.

On Saturday May 3, the Expedition 6 crew will say goodbye to Lu and Malenchenko and board a Soyuz spacecraft that's been docked to the Station since last fall. Bowersox, Burdarin and Pettit will then undock their Soyuz for the trip home. Less than four hours later, they'll land in the middle of a high desert in central Kazakhstan, which will end their five-and-a-half month mission. Their landing will be another "first" for NASA. No U.S. astronauts have ever landed using a Russian spacecraft. Lu and his crewmate will return to Earth the same way when Expedition 7's mission ends in October.

If you'd like more information about Expedition 6, 7 or the International Space Station, visit: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station.

Credit:
Allard Beutel
NASA Headquarters
Reporting from Moscow