U.S., Russian Soyuz Crew Carries Out Belated Docking With International Space Station

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Russia's TMA-12M spacecraft delivered three U.S. and Russian astronauts to the International Space Station late Thursday, ending a rendezvous and docking operation delayed by two days because of a missed post-launch rendezvous maneuver.

The capsule carrying commander Alexander Skvortsov, cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and U.S. astronaut Steve Swanson carried out an automated docking with the station's Russian segment Poisk module at 7:53 p.m., EST, restoring the 15-nation orbiting science laboratory to six-person status for the first time since March 10.

"We have contact," reported Skvortsov, the Soyuz commander.

"Congratulations," responded Russia's Mission Control Center.

blog post photo
Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft, center, delivers three U. S., Russian astronauts to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA TV 

The three men lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday at 5:17 p.m., EDT,  on what was to be the fifth consecutive four orbit, six hour transit to the ISS. However, the capsule failed to initiate the third in a series of four scheduled post-launch rendezvous maneuvers when the flight control system prepared to ignite with the capsule one degree away from the proper attitude. With a planned 11:05 p.m., EDT, docking then out of reach, the Soyuz control system automatically reverted to a backup 34 orbit, two day rendezvous profile with a pair of new maneuvers early March 26.

Russian controllers are at work on a flight control remedy, said NASA spokesman Rob Navias from Russia's Mission Control Center outside Moscow. Following the missed maneuver, seven subsequent Soyuz maneuvers unfolded without further difficulty.

The newcomers were greeted by ISS Expedition 39 commander Koichi Wakata, of Japan, U.S. astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. Skvortsov, Artemyev and Swanson replace Mike Hopkins, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazsanskiy, the U.S. and Russian trio that descended to Earth on March 10 after 5 1/2 months in orbit.

Swanson, a two mission NASA space shuttle veteran, is trained to assume command of the ISS in mid-May, as Wakata, Mastracchio and Tyurin depart the ISS after six months.

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