Two days after their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian Commander Yuri Gidzenko, Flight Engineer Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency and South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth docked their Soyuz TM-34 craft to the nadir docking port of the Zarya module of the ISS at 2:56 a.m. Central time (756 GMT) as the two vehicles flew over Central Asia.
On board the ISS, Expedition Four Flight Engineer Dan Bursch, a Navy Captain, maintained a tradition by ringing the ship's bell in the Unity module to mark the arrival of new visitors. ISS Commander Yury Onufrienko and Flight Engineer Carl Walz monitored the docking along side Bursch.
Parked nearby at the Pirs Docking Compartment was the Soyuz TM-33 craft, which was brought to the ISS by another crew last fall. Gidzenko, Vittori and Shuttleworth will ride home to a landing on the Kazakh steppes in that older Soyuz capsule on May 4, U.S. time (early May 5, Kazakhstan time).
Gidzenko, who is making his third flight into space, is the first former resident of the ISS to return to the complex, having been a member of the Expedition One crew, the first crew to live aboard the station. Gidzenko first arrived at the ISS in November 2000. Vittori, who is a professional astronaut, is making his first spaceflight, traveling to the ISS under a contract between the Italian Space Agency and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. Shuttleworth is a South African Internet entrepreneur flying under contract with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency as well on his first mission.
Gidzenko, Vittori and Shuttleworth will spend their visit on the station conducting experiments and educational activities
About an hour and a half after docking, and after leak checks were performed to insure a tight seal between the Soyuz and the ISS, hatches swung open at 4:25 a.m. Central time (925 GMT) and the six crewmembers greeted one another. Congratulations were offered to the two crews from Russian, Italian, European Space Agency and South African officials who watched the linkup from the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow.
All systems aboard the ISS continue to function well as the station orbits at an average altitude of about 245 statute miles.