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Russian Soyuz Rocket Ready For Lift-Off

Lu Remembers Columbia

When American astronaut Edward Lu climbs on board the International Space Station for a six-month stay, he'll be thinking about the last American crew to launch into space. He calls it a tribute to the seven astronauts who died Feb. 1 aboard the shuttle Columbia.

"We are doing what I think they would have wanted and what their families would have wanted us to do - continue the process of flying into space," Lu said.

"This is a very important flight because of the fact that we are the first ones after STS-107,” he said at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazhikstan Friday. “They accomplished their mission, but they never completed it. In fact, one of the things I’m going to do during the launch is I’m going to wear an STS-107 patch here on my sleeve in their honor, and we’ll be thinking about them during the lift-off and during the flight.”

He was speaking one day before lifting off from the in a Soyuz TMA-2 capsule which will rendesvous with the ISS Monday afternoon. Lu, 39, and his mission commander, Russian Col. Yuri Malenchenko, 41, will spend six months alone on the ISS after they relieve U.S. station commander Ken Bowersox, flight engineer Donald Pettit and Russian flight engineer Nikolai Budarin. That trio has been in space an extra month because, in the wake of the Columbia disaster, all space shuttles have been grounded.

Good Friends, Close Quarters

Lu and Malenchenko have teamed up before. They flew to the ISS in 2000, making it ready for permanent habitation. They even performed a six-hour long spacewalk together.

It's a good thing they're such close friends. The third astronaut slated for ISS Mission 7, Russian Alexander Kaleri, was bumped from the flight to conserve expendables like food and water. Fewer astronauts on board means fewer resupply flights. As a result, Mission 7 has been reduced to a maintenance and habitation mission. Lu and Malenchenko are going up to keep the lights on and fix whatever breaks.

"But we still have an important mission and we are well prepared," said Col. Malenchenko.

Referring to the ill-fated crew of Columbia, Dr. Lu said, "We'll be thinking about them during the flight up and on the way down."

FMI: www.spaceflight.nasa.gov/station

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