BAIKONUR, (AFP): A trio of astronauts were due to blast off overnight, delivering to the International Space Station (ISS) some fancy French culinary fare, a saxophone and its future female Commander.
The team includes French space rookie Thomas Pesquet, 38, NASA’s former chief astronaut Peggy Whitson, and Russia’s Oleg Novitsky.
In the hours leading up to the 2:20 AM Friday launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome on the arid steppes of western Kazakhstan, the astronauts huddled with family who they will see next after touching down in six months’ time.
Pesquet, a former Air France pilot who has spent seven years training for a shot at Space, posted a “LastSelfieOnEarth” photo on the European Space Agency’s Facebook page.
Mr Novitsky, 45, who was born in Belarus, will carry a Belarus flag with him on his second ISS trip, according to official media there.
Social media was abuzz about the records that the trailblazing Ms Whitson is due to break on her third ISS mission.
The 56-year-old already holds the record for the longest time in space for a woman.
She will take command of the ISS in March 2017, a role she already held back in 2007, becoming the only woman to lead it twice. And she will be the oldest woman ever in space — turning 57 while still aboard the ISS.
In addition to his saxophone, Mr Pesquet is carrying coveted cargo from his home country: a selection of gourmet dishes by world-famous chefs Alain Ducasse and Thierry Marx.
“We will have food prepared by a Michelin-starred chef at the station. We have food for the big feasts: for Christmas, New Year’s and birthdays. We’ll have two birthdays, mine and Peggy’s,” the Frenchman said at the astronauts’ last press conference before the launch.
Highlights include beef tongue with truffled foie gras and duck breast confit.
Ms Whitson said the fancy French food would be a welcome change on the ISS.
“I think the thing that I find the most challenging about space flights is the lack of variety of the food,” she said.
But above all she stressed the international cooperation embodied by the space missions. “I think quite the most important thing about it (the ISS), it’s the demonstration of what people can do together.”
Mr Novitsky, who is making his second ISS trip, agreed. “The ISS is both a home and a place of work. It’s also a place for friendship, for showing to the world that we can work together and have good relationships,” he said.
Space travel has been one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia and the West that has not been crippled by the Ukraine crisis.
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