Ship carrying 3 astronauts docks at space station

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2009 6:08 PM

A Russian spacecraft carrying an American, a Russian and a Japanese austronaut docked successfully at the International Space Station on Wednesday, officials said.

Russia's Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said the Soyuz TMA-17 hooked up with the station using an automatic docking system at 1:48 a.m. Moscow time Wednesday (2248 GMT Tuesday).

"It was a very smooth automatic docking," Lyndin said. "All systems worked without a hitch."

The spacecraft was launched Monday from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

American Timothy J. Creamer, Soichi Noguchi of Japan and Russia's Oleg Kotov have joined the station's current inhabitants, American Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Surayev. Williams and Surayev arrived at the station in October.

Creamer, who is making his maiden voyage to space, has promised to keep people back on earth up-to-date via Twitter.

Noguchi is heading back to space for his second time and is the first professional Japanese astronaut to fly aboard the Soyuz.

The station's permanent crew consisted of no more than three people until earlier this year, when it doubled to six for the first time.

The station's first crew arrived in 2000, two years after the first part was launched.

The mammoth station, the biggest orbiting outpost ever built, now consists of 11 modules built by the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency. Doubling of its permanent crew will allow other nations to send their astronauts to the station, which had mostly been manned in the past by Russian and U.S. crew members.

With the U.S. shuttle fleet set to be grounded soon, NASA and other international partners will have to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft alone to ferry their astronauts to the space station and back.