New Space Station Crew Ready to Blast Off

The International Space Station's next crew is still more than two months away from launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but is already looking forward to spending at least six months in orbit.

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The internationally-diverse crew of three is led by Expedition 13 commander and veteran cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, who will head-up the Soyuz flight in late March. he says he's ready to fly.

"We have been training for this flight for a long time. Our training has been extensive and complex. Expedition 13 will be a new page in the history of the International Space Station."

Vinogradov is joined by veteran astronaut Jeff Williams and Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes, who will replace astronaut Bill McArthur and cosmonaut Vitaly Tokarev, who have been aboard the ISS since October of last year. Pontes will spend only eight days on board the Space Station before he returns to earth.

"Besides all the scientific objectives of this mission for us in Brazil, this will also be a very strong and a very happy step for our space program."

The ISS has been in orbit for more than five years, but has been staffed with only a two-man crew since the Columbia disaster three years ago. The new crew will be joined by a third, long-term member later this year, something Williams is looking forward to.

"We look forward to the work on board continuing to keep the Space Station in good shape, continuing to do a limited amount of research and science until the next shuttle arrives. We're looking forward to the arrival of the next shuttle where we can go back to a crew of three and increase the utilization of the Space Station and add some science capability and continue on with the assembly of the Space Station to get the full utilization."

Shuttle Discovery was the last NASA space vehicle to visit the ISS, completing a mission last summer that included a space walk to inspect the spacecraft for damage. It was the first shuttle mission since the Columbia tragedy in 2003.

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