Expedition 19 commander Gennady Padalka (center), repeat space tourist Charles Simonyi (left) and NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt head out to their Soyuz launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on March 26, 2009.
Credit: RSC Energia.
This story was updated at 1:54 p.m. EDT.
A Russian spacecraft carrying a space tourist, a rookie astronaut and a veteran cosmonaut docked at the International Space Station Saturday after a two-day chase.
The Soyuz TMA-14 vehicle, which launched Thursday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, pulled into a parking spot at the station at 9:05 a.m. EDT (1305 GMT). The craft delivered U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi, the world?s first repeat space tourist, along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, who will both begin a six-month stay at the orbital lab.
Shortly before docking, automated systems aboard the Soyuz indicated that a thruster was malfunctioning and driving the vehicle away from the space station. Russian mission controllers decided to switch off automatic steering, and told Padalka, the Soyuz commander, to manually guide the ship into port to close the last 150 meters (500 feet).
"We controlled the situation all the way through," A Russian space official said in a briefing after docking. "Of course we will investigate it and we will correct the algorithms of the flight."
The docking went smoothly otherwise, with the craft pulling in to harbor about 9 minutes ahead of schedule.
After docking, Russian mission control thanked Padalka for the good work.
"Well, just the way you taught us," he replied.
The hatches between the two vehicles were opened at 12:36 p.m. EDT (1636 GMT), slightly behind schedule to allow the station crew to finish up a time-sensitive experiment on the Japanese Kibo laboratory.
The spaceflyers were greeted with hugs and hellos from the station's Expedition 18 crew, and calls from Russian and American officials as well as the spaceflyers' families.
"Don't break anything," one of Barrat's children told him. "I'll try not to," Barratt replied. "We're having a lot of fun, and the food's not bad either."
Simonyi plans 12 days? worth of educational outreach activities, Earth observation and scientific research for his sojourn. The software executive paid $35 million to the Russian Federal Space Agency through the U.S. company Space Adventures, which also brokered his first trip to space in April 2007.
"I thought it was rather short," Simonyi told SPACE.com recently. "Certainly there were many things that I wanted to do that I haven?t done. Continuing to work there and continuing to support the work of private spaceflight, I think it's worth it."
Veteran cosmonaut Padalka is in charge of the space station?s Expedition 19 crew, and is the first person to command a station mission twice. Barratt, a first-time spaceflyer, will serve as Expedition 19 flight engineer.
"Looking at the Earth, looking at our home planet from space - I will certainly be at the end of a line of hundreds of people who have done that before me, but I can't imagine anything that?s going to affect me more than just seeing that from that perch," Barratt told SPACE.com before launch.
There are three people currently onboard the space station eagerly awaiting the new arrivals. NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, commander of the station's Expedition 18 mission, is due to be relieved by Padalka. Barratt is set to replace cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov. Both Fincke and Lonchakov have been on the station since last October and will return to Earth with Simonyi on April 7.
The third person already at the station is Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, who will stay onboard to join the crew of Expedition 19. Wakata, a flight engineer, is his nation's first long-duration astronaut.
"You know that all these countries have been participating in ISS project for 10 years as a minimum, and now it?s pretty high time to have all these astronauts and cosmonauts together working in space," Padalka said in a preflight interview.
Later, Simonyi will move his custom-made seat liner into the Soyuz returning Fincke and Lonchakov, who are returning to Earth after more than five months in space.
On April 2, command of the orbiting laboratory will officially pass over from Fincke to Padalka during a change of command ceremony.
The new Expedition 19 crew has their work cut out for them preparing the orbiting laboratory to receive double-sized crews of six starting this summer.
"Imagine that you?ve invited a lot of people to your house and that some of those houseguests are coming to stay; so you?re going to spend a lot of time cleaning closets and making sure your kitchen is ready," Barratt said in a preflight interview.
The crew plans two or three spacewalks to lay the ground for the arrival of the Mini Research Module 2, a node similar to the Pirs docking compartment currently in orbit, due to launch on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in August.
SPACE.com will provide full coverage of Simonyi's second space tourist flight and the Expedition 19 mission with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
- Video - Expedition 19: Priming ISS for Larger Crew
- New Show - Inside the International Space Station
- Video - Space Tourist Charles Simonyi in Zero G