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500th manned flight: Milestone space mission to blast off from Gagarin's launch pad

Preparations are underway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome to launch the 500th manned space rocket into orbit. The International Space Station will welcome three new crewmembers for months of hard work. But there will be time for some fun, too.

The Soyuz rocket is scheduled to blast off on Wednesday, with Russian (Sergey Volkov) and Kazakh (Aidyn Aimbetov) cosmonauts, and the first Danish astronaut (Andreas Mogensen) aboard.


It was still dark at Baikonur when the Soyuz rocket was rolled out of its hangar and began its short, yet unhurried journey towards the launch pad. There it was erected on the firing platform, reports RT’s Ilya Petrenko, who traveled to the Cosmodrome to see if everything's ready for the landmark lift-off.


A huge railway flatcar carrying the rocket moved smoothly so as not to disturb a single element of the space vehicle.


It was decided that the 500th manned launch will be made from the same pad that Yury Gagarin’s original Soyuz blasted off from on April 12, 1961.


Three backup cosmonauts were present at the ceremony of the rocket’s last land journey. Although the men aren’t going to space this time, the RT crew was told not to get close to the backups so they don’t catch some kind of flu – just in case.


Mogensen’s wife, who also was watching the rocket rollout, couldn’t contain her emotions, with tears rolling down her cheeks.


“We’ve been building up to this day for a very long time. I don’t know, it’s just surreal,” Mrs. Mogensen told RT.


Everybody around was taking selfies with the rocket as the erecting device mounted it on the launch pad. However, few of the spectators were aware of the real significance of the flight. Asking how many manned launches they thought there had been, the RT crew heard guesses ranging from 35 to 200.


There have been 499 manned launches since Yury Gagarin first went into space. He only spent a few hours there, while modern missions last months. To make this possible, the International Space Station was built in orbit; its construction began back in 1998.


READ MORE: Real coffee hits space: Italian astronaut brews groundbreaking espresso on ISS

Though the ISS travels a regularly corrected orbit at 27,600 kph, life has come to resemble that back home, with a lot of earthly comforts available for the crew. The station has the first ever space coffee machine, and a recent batch of supplies delivered included some Japanese whiskey - although strictly for scientific purposes, as drinking in orbit is prohibited.

READ MORE: Space age: Japanese whisky heading for orbit experiment on ISS

The current crew of the ISS consists of three cosmonauts from Russia’s Roscosmos space agency - Commander Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko and Oleg Kononenko - NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, and Japanese researcher Kimiya Yui.

Kelly has a twin brother on Earth, who’s also an astronaut. They are both participating in a study on how life in space affects the human body. Scott admits he sometimes envies his brother Mark back home, particularly when it comes to home-cooked food, whereas he has to subsist on “something brown” in a bag.

Over numerous missions, astronauts and cosmonauts have learnt to grow their own food in space. All of their first harvest was sent back to Earth, but the hard work paid off in the end, as they were allowed to eat half of the latest yield.

“It’s great to have fresh vegetables and if we want to go to Mars some day and live in places where there’s no resupply – we gonna get to know how to do that,” Kelly said.

Astronauts spend between six months and a year aboard the ISS - that means lots of dirty laundry. But the nearest washing machine is 400km away.

The ISS crew members don't do laundry because it requires a lot of water, so the clothes are simply “thrown out.”

“I think I’ve been wearing this pair of pants for a couple of months,” Kelly said in an interview from orbit, pointing at his uniform.

Scott Kelly received a message from Barack Obama recently, asking if he freaks out when looking out the window.

“I don’t freak out about anything, Mr. President. Except getting a Twitter question from you,” was Kelly's reply.