- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

MOSCOW, April 18 (UPI) — The space station's first two-member crew departs for its launch site this weekend, ready to assume control of an outpost designed for a minimum staff of three.

The space station's crew had to be scaled back to two people to save on water and food until shuttle flights resume. NASA halted shuttle flights to the station in the wake of the Feb. 1 Columbia disaster, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts.

"Our life is going to be quite intense," Expedition Seven commander Yuri Malenchenko said during a prelaunch press conference on Friday.

Malenchenko is paired with NASA astronaut Edward Lu for a six-month stay aboard the half-built orbital outpost.

Lu said Friday that he is saddened by the loss of Columbia, but that the space program must continue.

"Because of the fact that our close friends perished … doesn't mean that we should stop what we're doing. If we stop at the first setback, then we won't get anywhere," said Lu.

The crew departs Sunday for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in preparation for an April 25 launch on a Russian Soyuz TM spacecraft. With the shuttle fleet grounded, the Soyuz is the only spacecraft now ferrying people to and from the station.

The international partnership building the $60 billion station is also dependent on Russian vehicles to launch supplies to the outpost. The Progress cargo ships, however, still leave the station short of what is needed to support three full-time staff, a robust science program and continued construction.

"It was a tragedy, what happened, and we felt for that," said cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, who was bumped from the flight. "And for the station, it's a regret that (the accident) caused us to change our development schedule. For the majority amount of time (only two crew members are aboard), science is in the background, and since that is what the station was designed for, that is the most important source of regret."

NASA has reworked the crew's schedule, dropping a spacewalk, construction activities and optional maintenance tasks to conserve supplies. That will leave about 20 hours a week available for science, although the crew will have limited gear and experiment samples to work with, NASA officials said.

"We can look forward to continued science on the International Space Station," said program scientist Neal Pellis.

Malenchenko and Lu will replace the Expedition Six crew, which has been aboard the station since November. Commander Kenneth Bowersox, NASA science officer Donald Pettit and flight engineer Nikolai Budarin were scheduled to return to Earth last month, but their mission was extended following the Columbia accident.

The crew is now expected to fly home May 3 in the Soyuz capsule parked at the station. Malenchenko and Lu are scheduled to be relieved in October by another two-member crew.

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