Soyuz capsule carrying Russian-American-Brazilian crew docks with space station
KOROLYOV, Russia – Brazil’s first man in space floated into the international space station with his country’s flag and a beaming smile Saturday, accompanied by his Russian and American crewmates as applause and tears broke out at Mission Control.American Jeffrey Williams, Russian Pavel Vinogradov and Brazilian Marcos C. Pontes entered the station after a cramped two-day journey in a Russian-built Soyuz capsule.”This is the international space station,” a Mission Control announcer intoned after the air locks opened and the crew greeted the two men who have occupied the station for the past six months.”The train does not go any further, please leave the cars,” he said, imitating the announcement made at the end of each line on the Moscow subway system.Dozens of officials from all three countries fell into hushed silence at Russia’s Mission Control Center in Korolyov, outside Moscow, as the capsule neared the station, then began applauding when contact was made.The TMA-8 capsule, which blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday, latched on to the station some 250 miles above the Earth Saturday morning, guided into place automatically by computers.Vinogradov and Williams will replace the current crew for six months on the orbiting station, while Pontes will return to Earth on April 9.”It’s certainly a treat,” said American William McArthur who, along with Russian Valery Tokarev, has been on the station since October. “It seems like it was just a week ago that Jeff and I were training together at Baikonur.”McArthur and Tokarev will return to Earth with Pontes.Floating into the station’s main compartment, Pontes grinned and quickly unfurled a Brazilian flag. He also brought a Brazil soccer jersey, hoping it would bring his national team victory in this summer’s World Cup.A 43-year-old father of two whose interests range from weightlifting to watercolor painting, Pontes is a Brazilian Air Force lieutenant colonel who has logged over 1,900 flight hours in more than 20 different aircraft, including both American and Russian-made fighter jets.”I think it’s safe now to call him a cosmonaut,” said Nikolai Sevastyanov, the head of the state-controlled RKK Energiya company that built the Soyuz craft.”Until the very moment that he returns to Earth, all Brazilians will be following him in their hearts,” said Raimondo Mussi, a Brazilian space agency official who monitored the docking at Mission Control.Williams’ wife, Anna-Marie, dabbed at her eyes, clasped her hands and waved at the live images being broadcast from the station as the crews met and spoke with ground controllers.”Now that they’re there, I feel much better,” she said.The new station crew plans to carry out at least one space walk and more than 65 scientific experiments during their six-month mission, including some to test human reaction to prolonged space travel.Vinogradov and Williams are to be joined later by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany, when the space shuttle Discovery visits the space station, tentatively scheduled for July. Once Reiter arrives, the station’s long-duration crew will number three for the first time since May 2003, following the Columbia shuttle disaster that February.The American space program has depended on the Russians for cargo and astronaut delivery since the Columbia explosion grounded the shuttle fleet. The shuttle Discovery visited the station last July but problems with the external fuel tank’s foam insulation have cast doubt on when shuttles might again start flying.Pontes trained in the United States and had been scheduled to fly to the station aboard a shuttle – plans that were scrapped after the Columbia disaster. Brazil and Russia then opened talks on Pontes’ traveling into orbit aboard a Soyuz craft; Brazilian media said Pontes’ trip cost $10 million.