When U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly blasts off to the International Space Station, he will have one unlikely consolation as he begins five months away from his family — his identical twin will drop by.
Kelly and Russia's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka are scheduled to take off early Friday on a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome leased by Russia in southern Kazakhstan .
Scott Kelly will be joined at the space station by his brother Mark, another NASA astronaut who will command the Endeavour space shuttle, scheduled to launch Feb. 27. "As kids, we never thought we'd be in this unique and privileged position to be able to do this," Scott told reporters from behind a plate of protective glass. The astronauts are kept in strict isolation in the days ahead of the launch to avoid exposure to infection.
During the prelaunch news conference Mark looked at Scott from the other side of the glass as he sat next to journalists, engineers and NASA officials. Mark said he had thought it unlikely he and his brother would meet in space, even when they both were on space flight training programs. This twist of fate became possible after Mark's shuttle flight was postponed in July. "It wasn't planned. I should have landed by now," he said.
Scott Kelly and two Russian astronauts will be flying in Russia's first all-digital Soyuz. A single new digital device on the spacecraft will replace five incompatible processors used for monitoring different aircraft systems.
The overhauled Soyuz will allow a doubling of the launch rate of Soyuz spaceships, which will help maintain a crew of six aboard the space station — crucial in the absence of the NASA shuttle fleet. The upgrade is expected to save time in the prelaunch checkout and in overseeing the craft in space.