UC Davis Grad Part of Exclusive Space Club

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    This image provided by NASA shows a portion of the International Space Station photographed by a space walking astronaut during the STS-128 mission's second session of extravehicular activity Thursday Sept. 3, 2009 as construction and maintenance continue on the station.

    Party at the International Space Station.  A rendezvous between the current space station inhabitants, a Russian rocket and a group from NASA's space shuttle Discovery  will all be orbiting in the space station 200 miles above the earth later this week.

    A University of California, Davis graduate was among the first guests to arrive.  She, along with two Russian astronauts, were aboard a Russian Soyuz space craft that successfully docked at the International Space Station Sunday.

    Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who earned an advanced chemistry degree at UC Davis, blasted off Friday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Caldwell Dyson first went into space on the space shuttle Endeavor in 2007.  Her group of three joined Russian commander Oleg Kotov, NASA astronaut Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of Japan.

    Within three days, that group will be joined by seven more people who are about to take off aboard the Shuttle Discovery.   Lift off is scheduled for early Monday morning.

    The larger group will all work together on a mission that will last about two weeks.   During that time, four women will be in space at the same time, which is a first in history. 

    While Caldwell Dyson and her group are already on board, Discovery and its crew won't join the party for another three days. 

    The shuttle and its crew of seven will deliver spare parts and science experiments to the nearly completed space station.

    Only four shuttle flights remain for NASA before it retires the fleet this fall.
         
    Once that happens, the space station will rely exclusively on other countries' vessels for crews and supplies.

    Monday's launch is expected to be the last shuttle launch in darkness. Discovery was supposed to fly two weeks ago, which would have meant an afternoon liftoff. But unusually cold weather over the winter stalled launch preparations and drove the flight into the wee hours. Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter and his crew will work the graveyard shift in orbit.