Image: Soyuz
NASA
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking on Tuesday, carrying three fresh crew members.
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updated 7/17/2012 1:47:27 PM ET 2012-07-17T17:47:27

Three astronauts arrived at the International Space Station early Tuesday for a four-month stay, bringing the huge orbiting outpost back to its full complement of six spacefliers.

The Soyuz space capsule carrying the three new crew members — NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japanese spaceflier Aki Hoshide — docked with the station at 12:51 a.m. EDT Tuesday after a two-day flight. The Soyuz was launched into orbit Saturday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"Everything is perfect," Malenchenko radioed Russia's Mission Control Center in Korolev, just outside Moscow. Video cameras on the exterior of the space station captured spectacular views of the Soyuz pulling up to the orbiting lab with the bright blue Earth in the background.

At docking time, the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft and space station were sailing 251 miles (402 kilometers) over northeastern Kazakhstan. The Soyuz parked itself at an Earth-facing docking port on the station's Russian-built Rassvet module, and the hatches connecting the two spacecraft were opened at 3:23 a.m. ET.

The Russian-U.S.-Japanese crew aboard the Soyuz arrived at the space station 37 years to the day after the world's first truly international space docking: the July 17 meet-up between a NASA Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet Soyuz 19 capsule during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. During that historic test flight, NASA astronaut Tom Stafford shook hands with Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov to cement the foundation of international space cooperation that ultimately led to the $100 billion International Space Station in orbit today.

Today, the space station is the largest human-built structure in space, often visible to the unaided eye from the ground. Fifteen different countries and five space agencies representing the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan built the huge orbiting laboratory. Construction began in 1998.

fter the hatches were opened between the Soyuz and station, Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide floated aboard the station and joined their fellow Expedition 32 crew members. That crew includes Expedition 32 commander Gennady Padalka, fellow cosmonaut Sergei Revin and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba.

Padalka, Revin and Acaba have had the space station to themselves since July 1, when three spacefliers returned to Earth and brought the station's previous Expedition 31 to a close. Padalka, Revin and Acaba will come home themselves in mid-September.

When that happens, Williams will take over as commander. She, Malenchenko and Hoshide are scheduled to depart the station on Nov. 12.

But first, the six-crew Expedition 32 crew will have to prepare for a busy few weeks ahead. On Friday, an unmanned Japanese cargo ship will launch toward the station carrying a fresh load of supplies for the orbiting lab's crew. It will arrive at the station on July 27.

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On Sunday, a Russian robotic cargo ship already at the station will undock as part of a test of rendezvous equipment on the station. It will redock at the station the next day, NASA officials said.

Another Russian supply ship will launch toward the station on Aug. 1 and dock on the same day to test a new rendezvous plan aimed at cutting down the two-day flight time currently required for Russian craft to reach the station.

Two spacewalks are also planned during the Expedition 32 mission. The crew may also be aboard to witness the first full-fledged cargo delivery to the station by a private spaceship.

In May, the private spaceflight company SpaceX's unmanned Dragon space capsule successfully docked during a test flight, becoming the first commercial spacecraft ever to do so. That flight was a demonstration mission. The first bona fide cargo mission could blast off this fall, space station officials have said.

Follow Space.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter@michaeldwallor Space.com @Spacedotcom. We're also onFacebookand Google+.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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