With Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka at the controls, the Soyuz vehicle linked up to the nadir docking port of the Zarya Control Module as the two spacecraft flew 230 miles above central Asia. The docking followed Monday's launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. ISS Flight Engineer and NASA Science Officer Mike Fincke and ESA Astronaut Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands joined Padalka on the Soyuz.
Padalka and Fincke will spend six months living on the Station while Kuipers, who is flying under a commercial contract between ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency, will conduct an nine-day research mission before returning April 30 with Expedition 8 Commander Mike Foale and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri, who monitored the new crew's arrival from onboard the ISS. Today marked 186 days in space for Foale and Kaleri, and 184 days on the Station.
After leak checks, hatches were opened at 1 a.m. CDT, allowing Foale and Kaleri to greet their first visitors since October to begin joint operations. One of the first tasks for the five crewmembers was a safety briefing and the start of Kuipers' science activities. His scientific payloads arrived at the Station in January on the Progress supply craft presently docked to the Zvezda Service Module.
On the scene at the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev outside Moscow observing the docking were NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory, Michael Kostelnik, NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Station and Space Shuttle and ISS Program Manager William Gerstenmaier.
Over the next nine days, Padalka and Fincke will familiarize themselves with Station systems and stowed equipment, conduct robotics training with the Canadarm2 robot arm, and receive detailed briefings on the scientific payloads they will be operating through October.
Foale and Kaleri will exercise rigorously to condition themselves in preparation for the effects of gravity upon their return to Earth with Kuipers in the ISS Soyuz 7 craft (TMA-3) mated to the Pirs Docking Compartment. Landing is set for April 30 at sunrise in north central Kazakhstan.