U. S. Italian and Russian Astronauts Dock with International Space Station


Russia's Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft delivered three multinational astronauts to the International Space Station late Sunday, including Samantha Cristoforetti, the European Space Agency's first female long duration crew member.

The TMA-15M, commanded by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and carrying Italy's Samantha Cristoferreti, who served as Shkaplerov's co-pilot, and NASA's Terry Virts, docked to the ISS Russian segment's Rassvet  module at 9:49 p.m., EST, initiating a five to six month tour of duty for the new crew members.

The Soyuz crew was greeted by the station's Expedition 42 commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore, of NASA, and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova.

The automated docking restored the ISS to normal six crew operations for the first time since Nov. 9, when U.S., Russian and European astronauts descended to Earth after 5 1/2 months in orbit.

Russia's TMA-15M approaches the ISS for docking. NASA

The new lineup marks the first time the station's crew has included two women since U. S. astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Shannon Walker shared the orbital outpost with four male colleagues in 2010.

Cristoforetti,  a 37-year-old Italian Air Force captain and fighter pilot who was selected by ESA for astronaut training in 2009,  becomes Italy's first female space traveler.

"I know for myself I have done nothing special to be the first Italian woman to fly to space," she stressed in pre-launch remarks. "I just want to fly in space, and I happen to be the first."

Shkaplerov, Cristoforetti and Virts lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday at 4:01 p.m. EST, or Monday at 3:01 a.m., local time in subfreezing temperatures and occasional snow flurries. The spacecraft climbed to orbit in good shape after a trouble free countdown. The nine minute ascent was followed by scheduled deployments of navigation and communications antennas as well as solar arrays.

Russia's Soyuz TMA-15M lifts off for the International Space Station with a two

man, one woman crew. NASA

The capsule settled into orbit 1,800 miles behind and below the 260 mile high ISS to begin a four orbit rendezvous and docking.




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