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NASA astronaut, two cosmonauts set for Friday launch to space station

Engineers readied a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for launch Friday to carry a veteran cosmonaut commander, a rookie co-pilot and a NASA astronaut on a flight to the International Space Station.

NASA’s Loral O’Hara, making her first space flight, veteran commander Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub are scheduled for liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:44 a.m. EDT (8:44 p.m. local time) Friday.

The launching was timed to set up a fast-track three-hour, 11-minute rendezvous with the space station and if all goes well, the Soyuz MS-24/70S ferry ship will dock at the Earth-facing port of the Russian Rassvet module at 2:56 p.m.

Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara are replacing another Soyuz crew — commander Sergey Prokopyev, co-pilot Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio — who were launched to the station last September. They plan to return to Earth on Sept. 27 to wrap up an extended 371-day mission, the longest single space flight yet by an American astronaut.

The trio originally expected to come home in March, but their flight was stretched out an additional six months after their Soyuz MS-22/68S spacecraft was disabled by a coolant leak last December. They’ll now come back to Earth aboard a replacement Soyuz launched last February.

As it turns out, Kononenko and Chub plan to spend a full year aboard the station as well while O’Hara’s tour of duty will last six months.

To get everyone up and down as required, the Russians plan to launch a so-called “taxi” flight next March when veteran commander Oleg Novitskiy, NASA’s Tracy Dyson and Belarus researcher Marina Vasilevskaya deliver a fresh ferry ship to the station.

Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya and O’Hara then will return to Earth about 10 days later aboard the same Soyuz that carries O’Hara aloft on Friday. Kononenko, Chub and Dyson will remain in orbit until next September, coming home aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S Soyuz that will be delivered by Novitskiy.

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