New Crew, Space Tourist Settle into ISS
American businessman Gregory Olsen, center, gives a thumbs up sign and Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev, foreground, smiles after entering the Pirs docking station of International Space Station Expedition in this view from television Monday, Oct. 3, 2005. Expedition 11 Commander Sergei Krikalev, right, and Expedition 12 Commander William McArthur are in view of the camera also.
Credit: AP Photo/NASA TV.

Two astronauts and U.S. space tourist Gregory Olsen are settling into life aboard the International Space Station (ISS) one day after arriving at the orbital laboratory.

"This is a dream come true," Olsen told reporters Tuesday via video link during a press briefing. "I'm having a great time."

Olsen arrived at the ISS early Monday with the Expedition 12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev when their Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft docked at Russian-built Pirs docking compartment attached to the Zvezda service module.

So far, the best part of the flight has been the absence of gravity, Olsen said, adding that he has experienced no ill effects from weightlessness.

Gregory Olsen - Third Space Tourist

"Just to float down the station is a wonderful experience," he added. "To me, yeah, it's worth the money."

While the flight is Olsen's first spaceflight - he is paying $20 million for his orbital trek - it marks the second ISS-bound trip for McArthur and Tokarev.

"The station is much bigger than when I was here last," said McArthur, who last boarded the ISS during STS-92 in October 2000. "At that time, there was no [Destiny] lab and we weren't allowed to go into the service module."

McArthur said that despite the newness of the ISS, he and Tokarev did not feel like space station strangers.

"It's really interesting how much at home Valery and I feel because the simulators at [Johnson Space Center] Star City prepared us well for being here," he added.

Orbital replacements

McArthur and Tokarev are relieving the space station's current caretakers, Expedition 11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips, who have spent almost six months living and working aboard the ISS. The Expedition 11 crew and Olsen are scheduled to ride their Soyuz TMA-6 spacecraft back to Earth on Oct. 10.

Both Expedition 11 astronauts are looking forward to seeing their families, as well some good eating, when they return from space.

After six months, a hot steaming pizza and a good, cold mug of beer are looking pretty good, Phillips said.

Krikalev added that he looked forward to once again savoring his coffee's aroma in a mug, rather than merely drinking it out of a plastic bag as he does aboard the space station.

"So nothing fancy, maybe simple stuff..we're missing regular, normal Earth food," Krikalev added.

The Expedition 11 and Expedition 12 station crews will spend most of this week's joint operations conducting handover activities, though Tokarev and Phillips are performing some experiments that are only scheduled during such crew overlaps, NASA officials said.

A fearless launch

Olsen, a scientist and entrepreneur, said he experienced no fear as he launched into space with the Expedition 12 crew late Friday atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket.

"As soon as that rocket launched, I was more relaxed than I've been in two years," Olsen said, adding that he felt both relief and joy at liftoff. "The only think I was nervous about was, maybe I wasn't going to go."

He will spend a total of 10 days in space, which includes a week aboard the ISS, and perform three science experiments for the European Space Agency before returning to Earth. He is the third fare-paying visitor to the space station after South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and U.S. space tourist Dennis Tito in 2001.

"I feel welcome," Olsen said, adding that the Expedition 11 and Expedition 12 astronauts are good company. "With a crew like this, how could you go wrong?"