New residents arrive at station for half-year stay
Posted: April 28, 2003

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft successfully docked with the international space station early today, bringing a two-man "caretaker" crew to the lab complex in a bid to keep the high-maintenance station manned until NASA's space shuttles can resume flights.

A view of the orbiting space station from a camera on the front of the Soyuz TMA-2 capsule during today's rendezvous. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
With commander Yuri Malenchenko at the controls, the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft docked to a downward-facing port on the Russian Zarya module at 0556 GMT (1:56 a.m. EDT) to wrap up a textbook rendezvous that began with blastoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome early Saturday (late Friday EDT).

During final approach, space station science officer Donald Pettit photographed the capsule using powerful telephoto lenses in a test of procedures that likely will be used during future shuttle dockings to look for any signs of damage to the heat-shield tiles that protect the orbiters from the heat of re-entry.

Following leak checks and other routine post-docking procedures, hatches between the Soyuz and the Zarya module were opened at 0727 GMT (3:27 a.m. EDT). Expedition 6 commander Kenneth Bowersox, Pettit and flight engineer Nikolai Budarin welcomed Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Ed Lu on board with smiles, hugs and handshakes.

A few moments later, floating in the Russian command module Zvezda, the combined crews accepted congratulations from U.S. and Russian space officials gathered at the Russian mission control center near Moscow.

Asked about his first impressions of the space station, Malenchenko said it looked "huge and beautiful" on final approach and "we were pleasantly surprised when we saw it."

"We're very happy to have arrived here, we're very happy to see our friends, to see them looking great and healthy," he said. "Thank you very much for the opportunity we have been given to fly up here."

Bowersox and his two crewmates originally planned to return to Earth in March aboard the shuttle Atlantis. They expected to be replaced by Expedition 7 commander Malenchenko, Lu and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri. But the shuttle fleet was grounded in the wake of the Feb. 1 destruction of the shuttle Columbia and the station's sixth full-time crew was forced to remain aloft an extra two-and-a-half months.

The Soyuz TMA-2 docked to the station as seen from an external camera shortly after the linkup. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
NASA and its international partners, meanwhile, held extensive discussions to decide how to keep the station manned until the shuttle fleet resumed flights. In the end, however, they had little choice. The shuttle provides the bulk of the station's fresh water and with the fleet grounded, the lab complex only has enough water to support a two-person crew.

Malenchenko and Lu began training to launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft instead of the shuttle while Kaleri, joined by NASA astronaut Michael Foale, trained as their backups. Kaleri and Foale are expected to launch in October as the Expedition 8 crew, replacing Lu and Malenchenko.

"Of course, we will have fewer resources and fewer capabilities available to us," Malenchenko said in a NASA interview. "We won't have any shuttle flights. Originally, there were three shuttle flights scheduled for our Expedition, and we had a lot of activities scheduled for the construction of the station. All of this has been postponed.

"We will use the resources that we have remaining and all our capabilities to continue. We still have our program. It looks different, but we will continue working. We will continue supporting the station. We will continue performing scientific experiments.

"We will only have two people on board of the station," Malenchenko said. "We will be missing our third crew member, but we realize that two people are enough to maintain the station in a working state. And additionally to conduct work on science experiments. That's how I see our future work."

The Expedition 6 crew on the left and Expedition 7 on the right gather in the Russian segment of the station for a VIP call just after hatch opening. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Bowersox, Pettit and Budarin now plan to depart the station next Saturday, returning to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-1 lifeboat currently docked to the Pirs airlock module. Before they go, however, the outgoing fliers will spend the next six days tutoring their replacements on the intricacies of space station life.

"We will, of course, talk about all the station systems, about all the specifics of the work on board of the station with the crew that has been on board for a long time," Malenchenko said in the NASA interview.

"We will try to share that experience. And then after that, we will have to rely on ourselves and on the ground for help to get used to living on board of the station. But, I think that we will have sufficient time for the hand over, although it might be a little bit more busy than we originally expected."

At a news conference shortly after docking, NASA deputy administrator Frederick Gregory, a former shuttle commander, said 2003 promises to be a "demanding year" for the international space station project.

"We anticipated five shuttle launches as part of the assembly mission and five Russian Soyuz and Progress missions," he said in opening remarks. "After the Columbia accident ... the demands became even greater, yet today we see that the work of the international space station continues.

"When the space shuttle returns to flight, the partnership will resume as we continue the construction and finish of the build of the international space station," Gregory said. "In the meantime, the international space station partnership has been tested by a great challenge. Yet the partnership has risen to this challenge and demonstrated that together, we are able to overcome any obstacle on this road to the future."

At that point, Yuri Semenov, the head of RSC Energia Corp., one of the largest Russian space contractors and a major player in the station project, took the opportunity to make a now-familiar plea for money to keep the cash-strapped Russian program going.

"We are to carry all the burdens of the cutbacks of the program and as has been mentioned, this year is going to be a difficult one," he said. "Right now, the financial support has not been implemented for this year so far, we have just words of promise and we do hope that these promises will be materialized soon and we get the financing, the funding, in terms of the budget that has been allocated before but due to all the changes we had at the beginning of the year, we are requiring further funding.

"We are expecting that our partners are not going to just be observers."

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