Image: Space station crew
NASA
The International Space Station's newly expanded Expedition 22 crew shows off their holiday gear on Tuesday. Front row: NASA's Jeff Williams, station commander; and Russia's Maxim Suraev. Back row: Russia's Oleg Kotov, NASA's T.J. Creamer and Japan's Soichi Noguchi.
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updated 12/22/2009 8:33:32 PM ET 2009-12-23T01:33:32

Three new spacefliers arrived at the International Space Station Tuesday wearing Christmas hats and bearing holiday cheer.

NASA astronaut Timothy (T.J.) Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi launched Sunday, arrived at the space laboratory at 5:48 p.m. ET and opened the hatches between the two craft at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Kotov floated onto the station wearing a red Santa hat and carrying a small Christmas tree, while Noguchi floated in after him in a matching hat, with a white sack of presents hung over his shoulder. Creamer wore an elf hat (complete with pointy ears) and elf shoes.

The new arrivals are joining current station commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, who have been onboard the station since October 2009.

"Welcome to station, guys, your home for six months," Williams told the incoming crew shortly after docking.

Kotov, Noguchi and Creamer are beginning a six-month tenure at the space station, where they will serve on the Expedition 22 and Expedition 23 missions.

"We look forward to having five crew members back on space station, and we look forward to plenty of activities and experiments," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, said during a post-docking news conference in Moscow. He congratulated the officials from the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, who were also there for the event.

"To get these vehicles ready to go fly and to do the activities that you did this year is a tremendous accomplishment," he said. "My congratulations to you."

Christmas in space
All the station residents will get the day off Dec. 25 to share camaraderie and meals with one another, and to reach out to friends and family back home through phone conversations and e-mail. After the holidays, though, it's back to work for a packed mission.

In January, Kotov and Suraev are slated to don pressurized spacesuits and perform a spacewalk, or EVA (extravehicular activity), to help install the new Poisk module, which arrived at the station in November.

"The primary objective of that EVA is to do all the things necessary to integrate that new Russian module," Williams said in a preflight interview. "So that's going to require the deployment and connection of some cabling on the outside, primarily, and they will have some secondary tasks as well."

Big year for Japan
The mission is a significant one for Japan, whose huge Kibo laboratory was fully assembled in July. Noguchi will utilize that module particularly, and its cache of research racks.

He will also welcome Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki aboard the station when she arrives with the visiting STS-131 space shuttle mission. It will be the first time two Japanese astronauts are in space at once.

"2009 is a big year for us," Noguchi said in a preflight interview. "I think in general the Japanese people are excited with all the space news these days. Hopefully that will continue in the coming year."

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