Astronauts drink tea in Moscow before December blast-off

1st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Three Russian and NASA astronauts drank tea Wednesday with the head of the Russian space agency in Moscow as they prepared to blast off later this month to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency are to travel to Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan on Friday and blast off on December 15.

The launch encountered problems when the Soyuz spacecraft that is to transport the astronauts to the ISS was damaged while being shipped by rail to Baikonur.

Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov said Wednesday that the spacecraft had been thoroughly checked and that some components had been replaced.

The last launch at Baikonur in October was attended by convicted spy Anna Chapman, a member of the spy ring involved in a high-profile swap with the United States in the summer.

The tea-drinking ceremony at Roskosmos's office in central Moscow is a long-standing tradition, during which astronauts chat to Perminov and journalists.

The flight will be the first time in space for Kondratyev, 41, while Coleman has already taken part in two space missions and Nespoli has been in space once.

Italian Nespoli, 53, towers over most astronauts at 1.88 metres (six foot two), but still meets the height requirements, the space agency chief said.

"He just needs to get a haircut," Perminov joked.

Petite Coleman, 49, argued that she ought to be able to bring her son along, since she weighed 40 kilograms (88 pounds) less than Nespoli.

"My son asked me to find out whether he could fly with me to space, since he weighs 37 kilograms, minus his space suit" she told Perminov, speaking in Russian.

Perminov turned down the suggestion, but said Coleman's lower weight did allow her one perk. "You can now take more food on the flight," he promised.

© 2010 AFP

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