(Sen) - Three astronauts are due to blast off today from Kazakhstan on the latest mission to the International Space Station.
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin are flying with NASA's Kevin Ford. Their arrival will restore the ISS's crew to six for the first time in just over a month, forming Expedition 33.
Their Soyuz TMA-06M was moved by rail to launchpad 31 at Baikonur on Sunday. It is the first manned launch from that tower since 1984 and it is being used because the usual pad is being upgraded.
Launch is timed for 10.51 GMT (14.51 Moscow time), and the astronauts will arrive at the orbiting outpost following a two-day flight on October 25. It is the Russians' first space flight but Ford has made one previous trip on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009.
NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (left), with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy (centre) and Evgeny Tarelkin. Credit: NASA
The new arrivals will join ISS commander and NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA. They have been aboard the ISS since mid July.
They had been working as a three-person crew since 16 September when Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineers Joe Acaba and Sergei Revin returned to Earth in their Soyuz capsule after 123 days aboard the station.
Highlights of their stay in recent weeks have been the departure of the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Edoardo Amaldi on September 28 and the arrival of the first commercial delievey of supplies aboard a SpaceX Dragon on October 10. A second Dragon is due to arrive in January.
The six person crew will conduct joint research and operations aboard the station until Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide fly home on November 12 after 118 days on the station and 120 days in space. Ford will then assume command of Expedition 34 and there will be a three-person crew once again until the rest of the Expedition 34 crew arrives.
Flight engineers Tom Marshburn of NASA, Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency and Russian Roman Romanenko are set to launch aboard their Soyuz 33 spacecraft on December 5.
Ford, Tarelkin and Novitskiy will spend around five months on the space station before returning to Earth in late March, 2013.