— -- NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins will be the next American to travel out of this world when she launches tonight on her first mission to the International Space Station.
Rubins and her two crew mates, cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of Russia and astronaut Takuya Onishi of Japan, will blast off from Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT inside a Soyuz rocket to join the rest of their Expedition 48 colleagues at the space station.
"Funny enough, my scientific and personal goals are almost identical. I am looking forward to every second, hour and day of observing how life operates in free-fall and watching our planet below," Rubins told ABC News last week in an email from Kazakhstan.
Rubins was selected in 2009 for the 20th NASA astronaut class after helping develop the first smallpox infection model for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The self-described "former virus hunter" holds a doctorate in cancer biology from Stanford University.
Once at the space station, she will be conducting research in biological and human studies, including how human bone mass and cardiovascular systems are affected in microgravity.
"I think it's going to be amazing to see how the world of microbiology, molecular and cellular biology and human physiology is massively changed by microgravity. This is the only laboratory we have as humans to study gravity as a variable," she told ABC News. "There's a world of insights to be gained into human health and disease by understanding how gravity and space radiation influence biology."
Rubins will be the first female astronaut from the U.S. to go to space in three years and the 59th woman in space. During a NASA crew preview she gave a word of advice to future scientists.
"If you find something that you’re excited about and you’re interested in, my advice to young women and young men would be do what you’re really interested in and what drives and motivates you," she said.
Rubins was born in Farmington, Connecticut in 1978 and raised in Napa Valley, California. She and her husband Michael Magnani live in Houston, outside of the Johnson Space Center.