New crew arrives at station aboard Soyuz capsule
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 12, 2007;
Updated after hatch opening
The Soyuz TMA-11 capsule, carrying incoming space station commander Peggy Whitson, Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysia's first astronaut, docked with the international space station today to close out a two-day orbital chase.
With Malenchenko overseeing the spacecraft's approach, the TMA-11 capsule's nose engaged the docking system of the Russian Zarya module's Earth-facing port at 10:50 a.m. EDT.
"Yuri, congratulations," someone radioed in Russian.
"Thank you," Malenchenko replied.
Television views from a camera mounted on the Soyuz capsule showed the final moments of the rendezvous and docking, beaming back crystal-clear images of the looming space station as the capsule glided toward the Zarya docking port in the middle of the complex.
Hooks and latches engaged a few minutes later to begin the process of locking the two spacecraft firmly together. There were no problems and hatches between the two spacecraft were opened at 12:22 p.m.
Whitson, the first female named to command the space station, and Malenchenko will replace Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, who were launched last April. Malaysian Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, flying with Whitson and Malenchenko as a guest of the Russian government, will return to Earth Oct. 21 with Yurchikhin and Kotov aboard the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft.
Astronaut Clay Anderson, who was ferried to the station last June aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, will remain aboard the lab complex with Whitson and Malenchenko until his replacement, astronaut Dan Tani, arrives aboard the shuttle Discovery at the end of the month.
Yurchikhin, Kotov and Anderson welcomed the new crew aboard today with hugs and handshakes before moving to the U.S. Destiny laboratory module for a quick video conference with mission control near Moscow.
"I feel very well and I have lots of Russian and American friends up on board with me here," Shukor said, smiling and looking relaxed as he floated in the roomy lab module with his five crewmates.
Asked if the crews had exchanged traditional Russian gifts yet, Yurchikhin said "the biggest gift is our friends who are here on time. They haven't had any problems and everybody is smiling and happy and the fun is only about the begin."
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of space flight operations, told Whitson "it's great to see you guys on orbit. Have some fun and do a lot of great work."
"You can count on us, Bill," Whitson assured him.
Whitson's crew will oversee a particularly critical period in the space station's assembly.
Discovery will deliver a new multi-hatch module called Harmony that will permit the attachment of European and Japanese research modules in December and early next year. Harmony will be temporarily mounted on the left side of a similar module called node 1, or Unity.
Whitson and Malenchenko plan to stage a spacewalk during Discovery's visit to help prepare Harmony for power and cooling connections. After Discovery departs, the station crew will mount a shuttle docking port on the new module and then use the lab's robot arm to move the assembly to the front of the station. Whitson and Tani plan two spacewalks to connect Harmony to power and ammonia coolant lines leading to the station's main power truss.
That will clear the way for attachment of the European Space Agency's Columbus module in December and two Japanese lab modules in February and April.
"It's an unbelievably exciting time to be in the Expedition Corps and to be flying at this time because of where we are in the assembly sequence for the international space station," Tani said in a NASA interview. "Now we have the opportunity to really increase the inside volume of the space station by adding what's called the node 2, the Harmony node.
"That will allow us to add other modules to the space station, the Japanese laboratory and the European laboratory specifically, greatly increasing the internal volume of the space station, and in turn, increasing the amount of science that we can do. So it's a really great time and I'm really honored to be able to fly at this moment in this assembly sequence."