Former Brevard County teacher rockets to space station

US astronaut Joe Acaba taught science at Melbourne High School

Published On: May 14 2012 07:22:13 PM EDT   Updated On: May 15 2012 06:36:39 AM EDT

A U.S. astronaut who was a former science teacher at Melbourne High rocketed up to the International Space Station on Monday for a six-month expedition aboard the orbital laboratory.

Local 6 news partner Florida Today reports veteran shuttle mission specialist Joe Acaba will be the first NASA "educator astronaut" to fly a long-duration mission on the space station.

Acaba blasted off on a Russian Soyuz rocket, commanded by veteran Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:01 p.m. The third seat was taken by spaceflight rookie Sergei Revin.

The trio is scheduled to arrive at the station at 12:39 a.m. EDT Thursday — Acaba’s 45th birthday.

A hydro-geologist who once managed a marine research center on a remote Bahamian island, Acaba said he is looking forward to being a subject for human research deemed critical to preparing for future interplanetary expeditions.

Among the experiments: Research aimed at gauging the effect of weightlessness on the human heart and how the cardiovascular system reacts during a return to normal gravity on Earth.

"It’s really the information that we’re going to need if we want to do longer and longer duration missions," Acaba told Florida Today. "So to be a part of that is pretty neat -- to become part of that history, knowing that you are contributing a little bit by kind of being that lab rat that helps us get a little bit smarter about what we’re doing in space."

If all goes as planned, Acaba will be on the station when SpaceX launches its Dragon spacecraft Saturday on a mission to demonstrate a capability to safely and reliably deliver cargo to the space station, according to Florida Today. Acaba, Padalka and Revin are slated to live and work on the outpost for four months. Estimated time of arrival back on Earth: Sept. 17. The other half of their 32nd expedition crew is due at the station in mid-July.