WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The next U.S. astronaut headed to the International Space Station said Thursday the mission will continue to provide research on how humans can live and work in space, as well as support President Bush's new vision to return to the moon and then head to Mars.
The main Expedition 9 crew, scheduled to depart Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 18, is made up of cosmonaut Genaddy Padalka, who will serve as expedition commander, and astronaut Mike Fincke, who will serve as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration science officer and expedition flight engineer.
"We have a lot of science to do. I am excited to be the NASA science officer," Fincke told a televised news briefing. "A lot of the science we will do will further what the space station has always been about: how humans can live and work in space.
"Also, this research will support things contained in the president's vision to go back to the moon and on to Mars. It will help us understand how humans can live for a long time on Mars and the moon," he said.
During their six-month stay Fincke and Padalka have two spacewalks scheduled. The first, to be completed about half way through the mission, will be to install new hardware on the exterior of the Russian-built Service Module.
The crew also will add a laser reflector, TV camera, antenna and docking target to allow Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle to dock with the space station next fall.
The ATV is a robotic spacecraft designed to carry cargo and experiments to the space station. It will be launched aboard an Ariane V rocket from South America.
The second space walk will involve a variety of maintenance tasks on the exterior of the space station, including the retrieval of some experiments that have been exposed to the harsh space environment for a number of years.
Joining Fincke and Padalka briefly will be European astronaut and physician, Dr. Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands. Kuipers will spend about a week aboard the space station, performing experiments for the European Space Agency, before returning to Earth in a Soyuz capsule with the current occupants of the station, Expedition 8 crew Commander Michael Foale and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri.
Padalka and Fincke originally trained for the Expedition 10 flight set for fall 2004. Last month, in a case of musical astronaut seats, the original Expedition 9 crew was bumped over what was loosely referred to as "compatibility" problems by Russian doctors.
Padalka is a space veteran, having spent 198 days aboard Russia's Mir space station in 1998 and 1999. Fincke described himself as "an almost eight-year space rookie" who eagerly is awaiting his first mission.
Both men described their working relationship as comfortable and friendly, having trained with each other in one capacity or another for nearly four years.
"Good things come to those who wait," Fincke told reporters.
"Our task is to keep the space station in operational condition until the space shuttle resumes fights again and to maintain a human presence aboard the ISS," Padalka said.
NASA had been working toward a September return to flight for the shuttle fleet, with STS-114 followed by STS-121 in November. Both missions are to test a variety of new safety systems and will visit the space station.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told a recent congressional hearing, however, it now was doubtful the schedule would be met.
NASA sources said the planned launch dates for these two shuttle mission will almost certainly slip to March 2005 for STS-114 and May 2005 for STS-121.
The Expedition 9 crew, therefore, is not likely to ride home on a space shuttle.
"I'd always thought of myself as a shuttle guy. Now I am a Soyuz guy," Fincke joked.
Keith Cowing is editor of NASAWatch.com and SpaceRef.com. He covers NASA for UPI. E-mail email@example.com