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.
- Liftoff! Launch Photos for Space Station's Expedition 32 Crew
- Blast-Off! Expedition 32 Crew Heads To Space Station | Video
- Inside and Out: The International Space Station
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