Kazakhstan – As part of Expedition 46, NASA flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko alongside co-pilot Timothy Kopra and Timothy Peak from the European Space Agency are set to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday Dec. 15 at 6:03 a.m. (5:03 p.m. local time in Kazakhstan).

They will blast off from Baikonur, the oldest and largest operational space launch facility in the word. The three astronauts will be riding Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft and it will take them 8 minutes and 48 seconds to get into orbit. The ISS is 250 miles above Earth and they will be there within six hours.

Expedition 46 is about science experiments in favor of earthly life improvement, as well as enhancement of future long-haul missions in space. In an interview with CBS News Kopra remarked the importance of this mission.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake during spacewalk training NASA’s training facility in Houston, USA. Credit: NASA

“Now we have a complete orbiting laboratory, and we’re doing very important science on board. But in large measure, space station itself is an experiment, because we’re learning about the equipment that’s necessary for us to live in space and to work in space, and it’s a great testbed for that”, Kopra said.

Malenchenko, the Soyuz commander who has spent 641 days in space, is one of Russian’s most experienced astronauts, with this being his sixth flight. He said in a pre-launch press conference in Houston that the crew will go to several spacewalks and that the planned science research program would be intense.

It will be the first flight for Kopra since a two-month visit to the ISS in 2009. Later in 2011 he was injured in a bicycle crash and that stopped him from joining a shuttle mission a couple of weeks before launch, which is why he expressed how thankful he was for having another opportunity to go back to space on Tuesday.

He pointed out how great of an achievement the international cooperation represented and hoped that the next explorations also included international partners. As the co-pilot, Kopra is responsible for being the primary flight engineer during launch and landing. After the Russian training program he feels prepared for any incident that could happen during the entire mission. Besides, he believes the Soyuz spacecraft is safer than NASA’s space shuttle, which is retired now, since it did not offer survivable abort options in certain periods.

In contrast, Soyuz has a mechanism that allows astronauts to separate the capsule from the rocket for a safe landing, even though they would not be able to complete their mission. No fatal accidents have happened onboard the Russian spacecraft since 1971.

After living in a cave for a week with colleagues and spending 12 days underwater as part of a psychological training, Tim Peak will be the first British on a long-duration space flight. He recently revealed at a conference that he will eat traditional Christmas pudding on orbit and that he had shown his family the facilities in the shutter so that they know what it is like to live as an astronaut in space.

Major Peak tweeted Saturday that ISS crewmembers would watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens, since they have a projector and a screen onboard. The film is expected on Earth by December 18.

Source: CBS News