Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Crew begins five month excursion aboard space station

Yuri Gagarin spacecraft nears space station docking. (NASA)

Three new crew members arrived at the International Space Station tonight aboard their spacecraft Yuri Gagarin to begin a five month stay and join three current residents in earth orbit.

The coming days mark the golden anniversary of humankind's first steps into the vastness of space.

As the two crafts sped into an orbital sunset over the southern Pacific Ocean at 17,250 m.p.h, earth hung as a backdrop as the Soyuz closed in on it's port-of-call.

"We are confirming good approach, everything looks good," Russia's mission control radioed as the Soyuz inched closer seconds before docking.

The Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft, code name Gagarin, arrived at the orbiting lab 49 hours following it's launch from western Kazakhstan with two Russian cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut.

Docking occurred to the Russian Poisk module several minutes early at 7:09 p.m. EDT (3:09 a.m. on Thursday, Moscow time), as the two crafts sailed 222 miles high over the coast of Chile.

Soyuz commander Aleksander Samokutyaev and flight engineers Andrei Borisenko Ronald Garan spent the next three hours powering down spacecraft systems and performing leak checks as they began to open the three hatches leading into the station.

Inside the station, three crew members photographed the Soyuz arrival and greeted the new space travelers with words of welcome.

The space station's current residents, Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli of Italy, have been orbiting alone since the March 16 departure of a Soyuz TMA 01M with Russian's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Hatches were officially opened at 10:13 p.m. and the two Russian commanders shook hands and

Kondratyev, Coleman and Nespoli will complete their five months aboard the space station in May and return home to earth.

As the trio undocks on May 16 aboard their Soyuz TMA20,
Borisenko will become the new commander of the Expedition 28 crew.

During the new crew's stay aboard station, they will be busy as the space shuttle Endeavour arrives on May 1 to install t
he Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and deliver spare parts for the outpost, and Atlantis will visit in early-July on a resupply flight and the final space shuttle mission ever.

Garan will perform a spacewalk with an Atlantis astronaut on July 2nd. Garan performed three spacewalks totaling nearly 21 hours combined on his first spaceflight STS-124.

Garan and his Russian crew mates will head home during the middle of September, just weeks shy of Ron's own fiftieth birthday celebration.

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