Russian spacecraft docks at ISS

Thursday 17 November 2011 10.47
Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin before they launched off
Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin before they launched off

A spacecraft carrying two Russians and an American has docked with the International Space Station in the first Russian manned mission for five months after a spate of technical failures.

The glitch-free docking of the Soyuz TMA-22 came after a textbook launch on Monday and was a huge boost to Russia, which postponed the mission in the wake of the disastrous crash of an unmanned supply ship bound for the ISS in August.

"The ship docked at 9.24am Moscow time (5.24am Irish time). Everything went ahead normally," a Russian space agency spokesman told AFP.

"The process of the approach and docking was carried out in an automatic regime under the supervision of mission control centre and the crew," Russia's flight control centre outside Moscow said in a statement on its website.

The capsule was carrying American Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who joined the three crew currently on board the ISS.

The current ISS crew of American Mike Fossum, Japan's Satoshi Furukawa and Russia's Sergei Volkov will return to Earth on 22 November and a new crew will head up from Baikonur on 21 December.

The Soyuz crew opened the hatch at 11.39am Moscow time (7.39am Irish time), NASA said. Its website showed footage of the smiling astronauts floating in through the narrow hatch from the Soyuz to hugs from their colleagues.

The men were set to enjoy their first meal together and then the new crewmates were to sleep to reset their body clocks.

"I'm glad finally to get aboard," Mr Burbank said via a video link with mission control, aired on NASA's website. "It was a great ride up here and it's going to be a great stay."

Mr Burbank is a veteran of two US shuttle missions to the ISS, while Mr Shkaplerov and Mr Ivanishin were making their first space flight.

The men were accompanied by the maggots of fruit flies, which they will use for experiments to test for any mutations linked to spending time in space.

The crew blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday in Russia's first manned mission since June. The workhorse rockets had been grounded after the unmanned Progress supply ship crashed in August.

The Soyuz-U rocket that failed to take the Progress to orbit is closely related to the Soyuz-FG that is used for manned launches, prompting the temporary grounding of the entire arsenal of the Soyuz rockets.

The failed launch of the Progress cargo ship eroded faith in Russia's status as a space superpower just as it had become the only nation capable of taking humans to the ISS after the retirement of the US shuttle in July.

It also forced a complete re-jig of staffing for the ISS. The latest mission had been due to go up in September.