May 28, 2009 03:41 PM
The International Space Station is about to get a lot more international. With a three-person craft en route, the space station's permanent population will double to six tomorrow for the first time. The arrival of the new crew members will also mark the first time that the five space agencies from around the globe that participate in the station program have been represented at once.
The space agencies have been preparing for the expanded crew for some time, installing additional solar panels to boost the station's available power and installing (and then repairing) a fluid-recycling system that reprocesses urine into drinking water.
With the added manpower, the station's operators say there will be far more time to conduct experiments on the effects of microgravity. The program has suffered criticism in the past for being light on scientific value, with the skeleton crew forced to spend an inordinate amount of time on basic upkeep.
The Soyuz capsule, which launched yesterday from Kazakhstan, is crewed by a Russian cosmonaut and astronauts from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency. They will join a cosmonaut already in orbit on the International Space Station, as well as astronauts from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Having so many nations represented "all together in one single crew," said the inbound ESA astronaut, Frank De Winne, according to Florida Today, "is really the intent of the International Space Station."
Insignia for International Space Station Expedition 20, with six stars to represent the six-member crew, courtesy of NASA
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