Image: Docking
An external camera on Russia's Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft shows the International Space Station's docking port almost dead ahead during the Soyuz's approach on Sunday.
updated 4/4/2010 11:46:41 PM ET 2010-04-05T03:46:41

A U.S.-Russian space team sent their Easter greetings down to Earth Sunday after their Soyuz spacecraft docked flawlessly at the International Space Station.

"Happy Easter to you all," Souyz captain Russian Alexander Skvortsov said in a broadcast from the station shortly after the ship hooked up with the orbiting station using an automatic docking system.

His teammates, California native Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian Mikhail Kornienko, joined him in greeting the world's Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians who celebrate their belief in Jesus' resurrection on the same day this year because of a coincidence in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

The docking finished at 9:26 a.m. Moscow time (1:26 a.m. ET). The Soyuz was launched Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the three joined the station's current inhabitants, NASA astronaut Timothy J. Creamer, Soichi Noguchi of Japan and Russia's Oleg Kotov.

Within three days, a seven-person crew aboard the shuttle Discovery will dock at the station for a 13-day mission. During this period, four women will be in space at the same time, which is a first in history.

The expedition led by Skvortsov, a seasoned military pilot who is making his maiden flight to space, will end in September, just as the United States' last-ever shuttle flight launches from the Kennedy Space Center.

With the winding down of the shuttle, the Soyuz — which launched the world's first satellite into space in 1957 — is set to take on the burden of carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

Dependence on the Russian-made spacecraft will increase over the next few years with only four launches left for the space shuttle before it is retired. That will temporarily leave NASA without its own means to send astronauts into space. Five manned Soyuz launches are planned for next year.

NASA is also counting on the development of commercial U.S. spacecraft to service the station.

One prospective rocket for commercial flights is the Falcon 9, built by California-based SpaceX. The first Falcon 9 is currently undergoing launch-pad testing, and SpaceX announced that the maiden flight would be delayed until no earlier than May 8 to provide more time for testing elements of the rocket's self-destruct system.

If SpaceX sticks close to its schedule, Caldwell Dyson will still be on board when another Falcon 9 sends its first Dragon cargo capsule on a test flight to the station.

This report was supplemented by

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Video: Soyuz rocket lifts off


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