Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Crew Docks Safely At Space Station

The first post-shuttle-era crew to launch toward the International Space Station arrived at the outpost today after a two-day flight from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

With cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov in the commander's seat, a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the Poisk module on the Russian side of the station. Poisk, named for the Russian word for "Search," was added to the station in 2009. It is a dual-purpose docking compartment and airlock.

Flying in the Soyuz on either side of Shkaplerov: cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank. The link-up came at 12:24 a.m. -- about nine minutes earlier than scheduled -- as the Soyuz and the station flew high over the South Pacific.

Awaiting their arrival: Current station commander Mike Fossum, a U.S. astronaut, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Burbank and his crewmates had been slated to launch Sept. 21, but their flight was delayed by an investigation into the Aug. 24 failure of of a Soyuz U rocket during launch of a station-bound supply ship. The Soyuz FG rocket used to launch crews is equipped with the same RD-0110 third-stage engine blamed in the failure.

A crew of three station residents that included U.S. astronaut Ron Garan returned to Earth Sept. 16. The arrival of Burbank and his crewmates marked the restoration of a full staff of six at the outpost.

Hooks and latches between the Soyuz and the Poisk module pulled the two spacecraft tightly together after the docking. Shkaplerov, Ivanishin and Burbank will perform leak checks over the next couple of hours to ensure a tight seal between the spacecraft.

A hatch opening and welcome ceremony is scheduled for 2:55 a.m. EST. Live NASA TV coverage will begin at 2:30 a.m. You can watch live here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer.

Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa will brief the incoming crew on station safety systems and then an abbreviated handover period will begin. Fossum and his crewmates are scheduled to return to Earth next Monday.

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