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5/27/2009
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Soyuz Astronauts Heading Toward Space Station

The entire Expedition 20 crew represents five agencies -- the first time a space station crew has represented all five international space agency partners at once.

Three astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station, after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz spacecraft Wednesday morning.

Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk are expected to arrive at the space station Friday morning. The trio will begin an era of six-person crews aboard the station.

They will join station commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineers Mike Barratt of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and they will remain aboard the space station for six months. The entire Expedition 20 crew represents five agencies -- the first time a space station crew has represented all five international space agency partners at once.

The Soyuz TMA-15 will dock with the orbiting laboratory around 8:30 a.m. EDT Friday. Romanenko will command the spacecraft through docking and serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 20 and 21.

De Winne will serve as a flight engineer for Expedition 20 and commander for Expedition 21. He spent nine days on the space station in 2002 during the Odissea mission. Thirsk will serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 20 and 21. He flew as a payload specialist on the STS-78, the Life and Microgravity Spacelab mission, in 1996.

Padalka, a colonel in the Russian Air Force, also will command the Expedition 20 mission and serve as Soyuz commander. He was commander of Expedition 9 in 2004 and he performed four spacewalks during his first trip to the space station.

Barratt will serve as another flight engineer for Expedition 20. He was the lead crew surgeon for the first Expedition crew that stayed at the station in July 1998.

Wakata served as a flight engineer for Expeditions 18 and 19 and will continue to serve in that capacity for Expedition 20. He's the first crew member from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to live aboard the space station. He will return to Earth with the STS-127 crew.

The crew will hold a news conference to discuss the six-person operations at 9:25 a.m. EDT Monday. NASA Television will broadcast the news conference live on its Web site, and reporters at several space agency locations around the world will be able to ask questions during the broadcast.


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