Friday, December 17, 2010

New space station crew arrives at outpost

Newly docked Soyuz craft at Space Station (NASA TV)

A manned Russian spacecraft docked to the International Space Station on Friday following it's two day chase in earth orbit.

The Soyuz TMA-20 with an American, Russian and Italian docked to the station's Rassvett module at 3:11 pm EST (2011 GMT), as the two crafts flew 224 miles high in the darkness above southwestern Africa.

Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli lifted off on Wednesday afternoon from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket bound for a six month excursion in space.

The crew of three then spent several hours completing post-docking tasks, including the opening of three select hatches prior to joining the current space station residents.

At the time of docking, the total time in which Americans have continuously lived in space is 3,697 days.

The current Expedition 26 crew of three, led by
commander Scott Kelly and flight engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, grew to six with the arrival of the craft's crew members.

Soyuz commander Kondratyev, 41 and the youngest of the three, is making his first spaceflight and will later command the space station this March as a member of the Expedition 27.

Flight engineer and NASA astronaut Coleman is making her third space flight having flown aboard space shuttle Columbia twice in 1995 and 1999. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday with friends at the launch site the day before her flight began.

Flight engineer Nespoli is a European Space Agency astronaut, and is the only member of the trio to have visited the station before having flown aboard shuttle Discovery in 2007.

On Christmas Eve, much of the world will have the opportunity to view the brightest star in the night sky as the nearly 1 million pound station flies over head.

The Johnson Space Center near Houston informed this reporter that the space station will pass over several American cities for three minutes. Sky watchers need to look after sunset as the massive complex will appear as a non-flashing star heading toward the horizon.

The newly arrived crew will also mark a milestone in spaceflight this April 12, as they help the planet celebrate humankind's first trip into space. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin departed from the same launch pad in which the Soyuz launched on Wednesday.

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