Third Space Tourist, Expedition 12 Crew Dock at Space Station
This story was updated at 5:07 a.m. EDT.
A fresh astronaut crew and U.S. space tourist Gregory Olsen arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) early Monday after their Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked flawlessly at the orbital laboratory.
Olsen and the ISS Expedition 12 crew, commanded by NASA astronaut Bill McArthur with cosmonaut Valery Tokarev serving as flight engineer, docked at the space station at 1:27 a.m. EDT (0527 GMT). Both spacecraft were flying 220 miles above Central Asia as the Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft eased into its berth at the Russian-built Pirs docking compartment outside the station's Zvezda service.
"Happy to hear you Sergei," said Tokarev, who commanded the two-day Soyuz flight to the ISS, to Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev as the two spacecraft closed within ship-to-ship communications range.
The Expedition 12 crew is relieving Krikalev and Expedition 11 flight engineer John Phillips, who have been living aboard the space station since mid-April.
McArthur, Tokarev and Olsen launched toward the ISS on Sept. 30 at 11:55 p.m. EDT (0355 Oct. 1 GMT) in a space shot staged from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their ISS docking caps a two-day spaceflight to catch up to the orbital laboratory.
The hatches between the two spacecraft were opened at 4:36 a.m. EDT (0836 GMT), NASA officials said.
"It was a great ride up here," McArthur said inside the station's Zvezda control module. "We're really happy to see Sergei and John."
While the Expedition 12 crew has a six-month ISS mission ahead of them, Olsen is preparing for an eight-day stay aboard the orbital research platform.
Olsen, 60, is the third fare-paying visitor to the ISS, following the successful flights of South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and U.S. entrepreneur Dennis Tito in 2001, respectively. Olsen's $20 million flight, like those of Shuttleworth and Tito, were brokered with Russia's Federal Space Agency by the space tourism firm Space Adventures.
"Dad, we love you so much and we're so proud of you," said one of Olsen's two daughters, who attended his launch. "You look great up there."
The founder of the firms Epitaxx, Inc. and Sensors Unlimited, Inc., Olsen hopes to conduct a trio of medical experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA), observe the Earth and make several radio and video broadcasts to students and others rooted firmly back on Earth.
"I've always slightly objected to the word 'tourist,'" Olsen said during a prelaunch press conference. "I think the word 'tourist' doesn't do justice to all the work I've put in."
Olsen will return to Earth on Oct. 10 with the Expedition 11 crew aboard their Soyuz TMA-6 spacecraft. Krikalev and Phillips are wrapping up their own six-month mission and have spent much of the weekend packing up their Soyuz vehicle while preparing for the arrival of Expedition 12 and Olsen.
But while Krikalev's return to Earth will set a new all time record for the amount of time an astronaut or cosmonaut has spent in space - he surpassed the lifetime record of 747 days on Aug. 16 - it is McArthur's eventually descent that garnered much attention after today's docking. The NASA astronaut initially hoped to return to Earth aboard a U.S. space shuttle, though delays due to external tank work and recent hurricanes have led ISS controllers to plan for a Soyuz descent with Tokarev aboard the TMA-7 vehicle if needed on April 1, 2006.
"If he needs to come home on Soyuz, he can come home on Soyuz and if we can bring him home on shuttle, and it's advantageous...we'll do that," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, at a post-docking press conference. "Either way, we will have a ride home for McArthur."
McArthur's launch aboard Soyuz TMA-7 marked the final Soyuz flight for a NASA astronaut at no charge under a bilateral agreement with Russia. The U.S. space agency is currently prevented from buying additional seats due to the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, which bars the purchase of human spaceflight hardware while Russia continues to aid Iran's nuclear and advanced weapons technology pursuits.
NASA is hoping to have the act amended, with the U.S. Senate approving a bill last week that would allow the purchase future Soyuz flights for the agency's astronauts.
"We are working through the restrictions with Congress as fast as we can," Gerstenmaier said.
Meanwhile, the day is not over for Olsen and the joint ISS crews. Olsen, McArthur and Tokarev will begin drying the Sokol spacesuits which they wore during their two-day Soyuz spaceflight.
Krikalev and Phillips will also brief the Expedition 12 crew and Olsen on emergency procedures during a standard safety session for all incoming astronauts. The Expedition 11 crew will also begin station handover operations and go over vital areas of the ISS with their Expedition 12 counterparts.
All five space flyers will end their day at about 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT), NASA officials said.
"It's great to see you all on orbit," Gerstenmaier said. "Have a good week and soft landings to the crew coming back."
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 11
MORE FROM SPACE.com