Image: Soyuz undocking
In an image take from video, the Soyuz crew capsule separates from the international space station to move to another docking port, against the background of a cloud-mottled Earth.
updated 11/29/2004 12:40:20 PM ET 2004-11-29T17:40:20

The 10th crew of the international space station made a short spaceflight early Monday to move a Russian lifeboat to a new docking port and prepare the station for a pair of upcoming spacewalks.

Tucked inside their Russian-built Soyuz TMA-5 spacecraft, pilot Salizhan Sharipov and his Expedition 10 crewmate Leroy Chiao deftly moved the spacecraft from the station's Pirs docking compartment to a new berth at the Zarya control module, its final resting place for the remainder of the crew's six-month mission.

Sharipov undocked the Soyuz lifeboat from Pirs at about 4:29 a.m. ET, and minutes later, he backed away to a safe distance of about 98 feet (30 meters). He then flew the vehicle 45 feet (14 meters) over to the Zarya docking port and redocked at about 4:53 a.m. ET.

The entire spaceflight took just 20 minutes. Chiao and Sharipov doffed their Russian-built Sokol spacesuits after docking, re-entered the station and resumed normal operations.

While brief, the Soyuz redocking maneuver was essential for Chiao and Sharipov in order to clear the Pirs compartment for use during two spacewalks tentatively set for January and March 2005. During those spacewalks, Chiao and Sharipov will install science and engineering equipment on the station's exterior and prepare the station to receive a new European cargo expected to launch in the fall.

Monday's spaceflight marked the first time the Expedition 10 crew left the station unmanned since they arrived Oct. 16. The two astronauts will also leave the station devoid of humans during both of their upcoming spacewalks.

Initially slated to be used as an emergency lifeboat, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles available for station crew exchange. NASA's space shuttle fleet has been grounded since the loss of Columbia and its crew on Feb. 1, 2003. The next shuttle flight to the station is slated to launch sometime between May and June 2005.

Expedition 10's Soyuz relocation flight was the first port-to-port maneuver since Expedition 4 crew Yury Onufrienko, Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz repositioned their Soyuz spacecraft on April 20, 2002.

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