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New crew arrives at space station

A Russian Soyuz capsule docks with the international space station, bringing Brazil’s first astronaut, a new Russian-American crew and a fresh load of supplies.
A Soyuz capsule arrives at the international space station on Saturday with supplies and a Russian-American crew.
A Soyuz capsule arrives at the international space station on Saturday with supplies and a Russian-American crew.NASA
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Soyuz capsule docked with the international space station Saturday, bringing Brazil's first astronaut, a new Russian-American crew and a fresh load of supplies, equipment and experiments.

Two days after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the TMA-8 capsule arrived at the orbiting station and latched on just after 8:19 a.m. (11:19 p.m. ET Friday), guided into place automatically by computers on the capsule and on the station.

Dozens of Brazilian, American and Russian officials fell into hushed silence at Russia's Mission Control Center in Korolyov, outside Moscow, as the capsule neared the station, then broke into applause when contact was made.

"Well, gentlemen, I congratulate you," a Mission Control announcer said.

"This is the international space station. The train does not go any further, please leave the cars," he said, imitating the announcement made at the end of each line on the Moscow subway system.

Cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who will replace the current crew for six months on the orbiting station, were joined on the trip by Brazil's first man in space, Marcos Pontes, who will return to Earth on April 9.

About one and a half hours after the docking, the air locks were opened and Williams, Vinogradov and Pontes floated into the station, greeted with handshakes and hugs by the crew's outgoing inhabitants — Valery Tokarev and American Bill McArthur.

"You didn't happen to leave anyone behind?" joked Russian space agency official Alexei Krasnov after making telephone contact with all five men and pointing out that the arrival fell on April 1 — April Fool's Day.

Brazilian pride
Pontes quickly unfurled a Brazilian flag and smiled widely as he floated into the station's main compartment.

"Until the very moment that he returns to Earth, the hearts of all Brazilians will be following him," said Raimondo Mussi, a Brazilian space agency official who monitored the docking at Mission Control.

Crew commander Vinogradov has said they plan to carry out at least one spacewalk and more than 65 scientific experiments during the mission, including some to test human reaction to prolonged space travel.

"I was shaking," said Kleber Paiva, a graduate student at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, which had two experiments that Pontes was to conduct during his nine days aboard the space station. "I'm so proud to be a part of this group, to be working with these people."

Third crew member due later
Vinogradov and Williams are to be joined later by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany, when the space shuttle Discovery visits the space station in July. Once Reiter arrives, the station's long-duration crew will be three in number for the first time since May 2003, following the Columbia shuttle disaster that February.

The American space program has depended on the Russians for cargo and astronaut delivery to the space station since the Columbia explosion. The shuttle Discovery visited the station in July but had problems with the foam insulation on its external fuel tank.

Pontes trained in the United States and had been scheduled to fly to the space station aboard a U.S. space shuttle — plans that were scrapped after the Columbia disaster. Brazil and Russia then opened talks that eventually led to Pontes' chance to be placed into orbit.

In addition to the flag, he carried a Brazilian soccer jersey into space, hoping it would bring his national team victory in this summer's World Cup in Germany.