Soyuz to deliver three-man crew to space station today
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 28, 2009
Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka took over manual control and guided the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft to a smooth docking with the international space station today to cap a two-day orbital chase that began with blastoff Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Sailing 220 miles above central Asia, the Soyuz capsule's forward docking mechanism engaged its counterpart on the Zvezda command module's aft port at 9:05 a.m., a few minutes ahead of schedule.
"We have contact... we have capture," someone said. "We have capture."
"Congratulations," Russian flight control radioed.
"Thank you," Padalka replied.
The Russians typically take two 90-minute orbits to complete post-docking leak checks before hatches between the two spacecraft can be opened.
Returning to the space station for a second tour of duty as commander, Padalka was joined by NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt, a physician-astronaut making his first flight, and Charles Simonyi, a wealthy software developer making his second paid trip to the station.
Today's approach to the station was uneventful until a few minutes before docking when Padalka was told to abort the Soyuz's automated approach and to take over manual control at a distance of a few hundred feet. The veteran cosmonaut had no problems with the final approach, commenting at one point that it was "just like the simulations."
Russian managers said later the automated control system had problems with a specific thruster, prompting the call for manual control.
Padalka and Barratt are replacing outgoing Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov, who were launched to the outpost last October. Their crewmate, newly arrived Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, will join Padalka and Barratt to form the station's 19th full-time crew.
Another Soyuz is scheduled for launch May 27 to carry three more crew members to the station: cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne of Belgium and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk. The transition to a six-person crew marks a major milestone in the evolution of the international space station.
Fincke and Lonchakov will spend the next 10 days or so in a handover period, familiarizing their replacements with the intricacies of station operation. If all goes well, Fincke, Lonchakov and Simonyi will return to Earth on April 7, landing in Kazakhstan aboard the same Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft that carried the outgoing station crew to orbit last October.
Simonyi, a Hungarian-born software developer, is the first private citizen to make two trips to the international space station. Such flights list for about $35 million each.
"I think it will be an interesting experience," Simonyi said in a telephone interview before launch. "I had a discussion with Sergei Krikalev, who is probably the most experienced cosmonaut in the world, and he told me the big difference between going first and going second, the first time people just learn how to live in space. And the second time, one can actually accomplish work, really work effectively."
During his second visit, Simonyi plans to chat with school kids via ham radio, write about his experiences on his web site and help Russian engineers calibrate space radiation sensors.
While he will spend most of his time in the Russian segment of the station, "with the permission of the commander I can go to other segments as well, and I plan to visit the American segment as well as the two new segments that weren't there before, the Japanense and the European segments.
"There is a lot of room. The way I describe it, it is the size of three city buses. And now, they've added two more RVs on the side with the European and the Japanese segments. So if you have three people up there, it's enormous. With six people, it will still be very, very comfortable and you can hide if you want and get solitude and privacy if you want."
While Simonyi would not discuss how much he actually paid for his second trip, he said "the price is going up. Future seats that NASA has bought are even more expensive. This has to be put into perspective because other means of getting to space are even more expensive, so this one is actually quite cost effective at the current state of technology."