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18th Space Station crew set for launch from Baikonur

From left, Richard Garriott, Yury Lonchakov, Michael Fincke walk to the Soyuz TMA-13 capsule for their suited fit check at the integration facility of the Baikonur launch complex in Kazakhstan

WASHINGTON (BNS): The 18th International Space Station crew led by Commander Edward Michael "Mike" Fincke is scheduled to take off in their Soyuz TMA-13 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan around 3 am EDT on Sunday.

The ISS expedition is for a period of six months.

The third member to accompany the crew is Spaceflight tourist Richard Garriott who is flying under contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Garriott would return to Earth with Expedition 17 crewmembers, Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, in their Soyuz TMA-12 on October 23. The Expedition 17 took off on April 8 this year.

"Expedition 18 crew members will be welcomed by the Expedition 17 crew including astronaut Gregory E Chamitoff, after their docking to the orbiting laboratory, scheduled for Tuesday. Chamitoff launched to the station on the STS-124 mission of Discovery on May 31. He joined Expedition 17 in progress and will provide Expedition 18 with an experienced flight engineer for the first part of its increment," a NASA release said.

"Fincke (41) is making his second long-duration flight on the station. He is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds Master's degrees from Stanford University and University of Houston, Clear Lake," NASA said.

According to the US space agency Fincke served as an Air Force flight test engineer and was selected in 1996 for the mission. He was commander of the second NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO 2), working seven days on the seafloor off Florida in May 2002. He served as a flight engineer on station Expedition 9 from April to October 2004.

Lonchakov (43) is a graduate from Orenburg Air Force Pilot School and Zhukovski Air Force Academy. "He is a class 1 Air Force pilot and has more than 1,400 hours of flight time. He also is a paratroop training instructor with 526 jumps," the release said.

"Selected as a test cosmonaut candidate in late 1997, Lonchakov has flown two previous space missions, STS-100 to the station in April 2001 and a Soyuz delivery flight to the station in October and November 2002," the release said.

Astronaut Sandra H Magnus is scheduled to fly to the station on STS-126 to replace Chamitoff as a flight engineer on Expedition 18. "She was selected as an astronaut in 1996 and will be making her second spaceflight. She flew as a mission specialist on STS-112 in October 2002," the release added.

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