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The International Space Station: Expedition 26

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Earlier today, a massive Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying three crew member to the International Space Station (ISS). They will join three others already in orbit. The full six-member crew makes up Expedition 27, the 27th long-duration ISS mission, which will last six months, beginning on March 16, 2011. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the historic flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin -- the first-ever human in spaceflight -- on April 12, and as we near the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, here is a look at the most recent ISS expedition, Expedition 26, along with the Earth-based support efforts from both the U.S. and Russia. During this expedition, the crew performed dozens of experiments, a new module was attached, and the Space Shuttle Discovery made its final visit. Expedition 26 began last November; it was led by Commander Scott Kelly, brother-in-law of Gabrielle Giffords, the U.S. Congresswoman who was gravely injured in a January assassination attempt. [38 photos]

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The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-21 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off from the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Ron Garan , Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokytyaev and Andrei Borisenko. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-21 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off from the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Ron Garan , Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokytyaev and Andrei Borisenko. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
The next crew members of the International Space Station (ISS), from left, US astronaut Ron Garan, Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokytyaev and Andrei Borisenko go to their final preflight practical examination in a training model of the Russia-built Soyuz TMA spacecraft at the Space Training Center in Star City outside Moscow on March 5, 2011. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #
Preparations for launching Russian Soyuz TMA-21 spaceship are under way in an assembly shop at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on Friday, April 1, 2011. First cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's portrait is seen on the rocket. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #
A mockup of the International Space Station is seen in the pool at the Russian Cosmonauts Training Center at the Star City outside Moscow, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev) #
Trainees in spacesuits assisted by scuba divers train in a pool at the Russian Cosmonauts Training Center at the Star City outside Moscow, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev) #
Russian cosmonaut Alexandr Samokutyaev adjusts the controls in the cabin of a centrifuge used for training at the Star City space center on February 21, 2011. (Reuters/Sergei Remezov) #
A general view of the centrifuge used for training cosmonauts at the Star City space centre outside Moscow February 21, 2011. (Reuters/Sergei Remezov) #
One of the next crew members of the International Space Station (ISS), US astronaut Ron Garan, smiles on March 5, 2011 before a final preflight practical exam in a training model of the Russia-built Soyuz TMA spacecraft at the Space Training Center in Star City outside Moscow. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #
The International Space Station orbits above the Earth in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation on March 7, 2011. (AP Photo/NASA) #
The Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft departs the International Space Station on Nov. 25, 2010. Onboard are three members of the previous Expedition 25 -- NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, commander; along with NASA astronaut Shannon Walker and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, both flight engineers. Yurchikhin, the Soyuz commander, was at the controls of the spacecraft as it undocked at 8:23 p.m. (EST) from the station's Rassvet module. (NASA) #
European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, is pictured in a window of the Cupola of the International Space Station on Jan. 2nd, 2011. (NASA) #
An Expedition 26 crew member used a fish-eye lens attached to a camera to capture this image of the Cupola of the International Space Station on Jan. 27th, 2011. (NASA) #
Clouds line the horizon in this sunrise view above the Caribbean Sea, photographed by an astronaut aboard the ISS on December 19th, 2010. (NASA) #
Part of the ISS can be seen in this night view of the lights of Chicago and the surrounding area seen from the ISS on February 12th, 2011. (NASA) #
European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, works with the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) Spindle Bracket Assembly in the Fluids Integrated Rack (FIR) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station on March 1st, 2011. (NASA) #
The space shuttle Discovery is seen with Earth in the background as the shuttle approaches the International Space Station for docking in this February 26, 2011 photograph by an Expedition 26 crew member. (Reuters/NASA) #
Lightning erupts in a cloudbank above a small town in South America on January 9th, 2011. (NASA) #
European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli and NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman, both Expedition 26 flight engineers, operate the Canadarm2 controls inside the International Space Station's Cupola to relocate the Japanese Kounotori2 H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV2) from the Harmony node nadir port to Harmony's zenith port on Feb. 18th, 2011. (NASA) #
This view of the nose and the forward underside of the space shuttle Discovery was provided by an Expedition 26 crew member during a survey of the approaching STS-133 vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station on February 26th, 2011. (NASA) #
NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Expedition 26/27 flight engineer, opens the container that holds Robonaut 2, the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station on March 15th, 2011. (NASA) #
In this March 15, 2011 photo provided by NASA, astronaut Scott Kelly, Expedition 26 commander, right, poses with Robonaut 2, the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. (AP Photo/NASA) #
The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 7 a.m. (EST) on March 7, 2011. (NASA) #
European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, ties his shoes in zero-gravity, preparing to exercise using the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (aRED) in the Tranquility node of the International Space Station on January 13th, 2011. (NASA) #
A night view of the Montreal metropolitan area is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 26 crew member on the International Space Station on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2010. The International Space Station was located over the Pennsylvania-New York border (near Warren, Pennsylvania) at the time this image was taken-a ground distance of approximately 600 kilometers southwest of Montreal. (NASA) #
Partially inside, partially outside the Quest airlock on the International Space Station, astronaut Alvin Drew prepares to begin his shared spacewalking duties with astronaut Steve Bowen February 28, 2011 in Space. (NASA via Getty Images) #
Amongst a tangle of structure and equipment, NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew (top right), both STS-133 mission specialists, participate in the mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station on February 28th, 2011. During the six-hour, 34-minute spacewalk, Bowen and Drew installed the J612 power extension cable, move a failed ammonia pump module to the External Stowage Platform 2 on the Quest Airlock for return to Earth at a later date, installed a camera wedge on the right hand truss segment, installed extensions to the mobile transporter rail and exposed the Japanese "Message in a Bottle" experiment to space. (NASA) #
An Expedition 26 crew member aboard the International Space Station snapped this photograph of the Ariane 5 rocket, barely visible in the far background, just after lift off from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Aboard the rocket, ESA's second Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, launched toward its low orbit destination and eventual link-up with the ISS. The spacecraft traveled over eight days to catch up with the space station and arrived on February 24th, 2011 with propellant, air and dry cargo weighing over 7,000 kg (15,000 lb). (NASA) #
Expedition 26 crew members watch activities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center from the Unity node of the International Space Station, regarding the launch of the space shuttle Discovery (STS-133). From left are Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, both flight engineers; NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, commander; Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, both flight engineers. (NASA) #
A night view of Seoul, South Korea, seen form the ISS on December 23rd, 2010. (NASA) #
A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka, Alexander Kaleri and US astronaut Scott Kelly on board lands in a snowy field near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts landed safely Wednesday in the snowy expanses of central Kazakhstan after spending a five-month stint on the International Space Station. (AP Photo/ Dmitry Kostyukov) #
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka, right, Alexander Kaleri, center, and US astronaut Scott Kelly, left, are seen inside of Russian Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft shortly after their landing near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergei Remezov) #
Russian support personnel work to help get crew members out of the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft shortly after the capsule landed near the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. (NASA/Bill Ingalls) #
Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly looks out the window of a Russian Search and Rescue helicopter before the two hour helicopter ride to Kustanay, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Kelly wears a blue wrist band that has a peace symbol, a heart and the word "Gabby" to show his support for his injured sister-in-law U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. (NASA/Bill Ingalls) #
A Russian policeman stands in front of the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft, named after the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, while it is transported to its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome April 2, 2011. The ISS crew of U.S. astronaut Ronald Garan and crewmates Russian cosmonauts Alexandr Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko is due to travel by Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS on April 5. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov) #
A multiple exposure image of service towers lifting to the Russian Soyuz TMA-21 space ship that will carry new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, at the launch pad in Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Saturday, April 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #
An Orthodox priest blesses specialists and the Russian Soyuz TMA-21 space ship that will carry new crew to the international space station at the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome oin Kazakhstan on Sunday, April 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #
A worker inspects Russian Soyuz TMA-21 rocket on the launch pad of Russian leased Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome before blast off to the ISS on April 5, 2011. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images) #
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-21 space ship, carrying Expedition 27 crew members to the ISS flies in the sky above the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) #

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