Russian-American crew prepares to blast off to ISS

Final preparations for two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut are underway at Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan for the 23rd Expedition to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-18 is the crew's ride into zero-gravity. Soon, only these craft will deliver spacemen and women to the ISS.

The Soyuz spacecraft is already in position on its launch pad, while engineers are carrying out the final inspections before fueling the rocket.

The crew is also having its last check-up before the scheduled launch on Friday morning.

“We have 42 experiments scheduled for the flight and I am sure we will do a fine job,” flight commander Aleksandr Skvortsov said.

Among the next batch of space experiments will be a touch of gardening, as the crew are taking some seeds to grow plants in zero gravity.

The Soyuz spacecraft has been delivering people into orbit for several decades now. The latest, 30 million horse power version of it has now been assembled on the very same launch pad from which Yury Gagarin blasted off to in 1961 to become the first human in space.

Cosmonauts Aleksandr Skvortsov and Mikhail Korneenko, and astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson have been training at Baikonur space center on simulators as well as on the Soyuz spacecraft itself. On Thursday they will attend the State Commission to give the final green light for their journey.

Miss Tracy Caldwell Dyson already visited the ISS in August 2007 on American space shuttle Endeavour. The Russian cosmonauts, on the other hand, are heading towards the stars for the first time in their career, having waited for the journey for over a decade. Therefore, for all three, this is going to be their first trip on a Soyuz rocket.

On Friday morning at approximately 08:00 Moscow time they will begin their two day journey to the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has spent the longest time in space out of all US astronauts. The frequent flyer has already been to the station twice, arriving both on a Shuttle and a Soyuz.

“A Soyuz launch is much kinder and gentler; it’s very smooth with the liquid engine,” she said.

With all tests signed off and exercises completed, the crew of the 23rd Expedition to the International Space Station still has one unofficial task – watching an old Soviet movie called “The White Sun of the Desert”, which has been a tradition for crews since Yury Gagarin’s pioneering launch.