Space crew being put through their paces

The main and backup flight crews for the next expedition to the International Space Station are undergoing their final exams before being cleared to undertake their orbital mission.

Russians Aleksandr Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko and American Tracy Caldwell Dyson are slated to become the next people to travel to the ISS in April.

On Thursday, they are taking tests at Star City near Moscow, to show how well they have studied during the several months of intensive space training. They will have to deal with simulated emergencies on the models of the ISS and the Soyuz spacecraft, in order to demonstrate technical and first aid skills.

Skvortsov has a military background. He graduated from a military academy and is an air defense specialist. While training to be a cosmonaut, he also became a certified pilot. Skvortsov was recently promoted to colonel.

Kornienko is an aviation engineer and worked for Russia’s leading space producer, Energia. He also served in the police for some time.

Caldwell has a PhD in chemistry. She is also the only member in the crew to have previous space experience. In August 2007, she spent 12 days in space onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, as it delivered new equipment to the ISS. Interestingly, she married in November last year, while undergoing her space training course.

Expedition 23 is to be launched on April 4. The three crew members will join Oleg Kotov, Soichi Noguchi and Timothy Creamer, who have been working on the space station since December last year.

Meanwhile Maksim Suraev and Jeff Williams, the two other spacemen currently onboard the ISS, are to return to Earth next week. The Soyuz TMA-16 capsule is scheduled to undock from the station on March 18 and land in Kazakhstan several hours later.