Threeastronauts took a brief trip around the International Space Station (ISS)Thursday to clear an orbital parking spot for an incoming crew and the nexttourist bound for the high-flying laboratory.
ISSExpedition 14 flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin deftly guided his crew'sRussian-built Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft to a berth at the aft end of the station'sZvezda service module at 6:54 p.m. EDT (2254 GMT), ending a 24-minute trip thatbegan at a docking port 80 feet (24 meters) away.
"Itwas nice and smooth, nice job," fellow Expedition14 flight engineer Sunita Williams told Tyurin after the short flight. "Anylanding you can float away from is a good landing."
Cladin their Russian-built Sokol spacesuits, Tyurin, Williams and Expedition 14commander Michael Lopez-Alegria cast off from an Earth-facing docking port onthe space station'sZarya control module at 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT) as both spacecraft flew 220miles (354 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean. Their destination port on theZvezda module was cleared Tuesday with the successful jettison of an unmannedProgress 23 cargo ship.
A main battery glitch prompted the astronauts to switch to a backup system aboard their Soyuz vehicle before undocking, but had no other impact on brief spaceflight.
TheSoyuz move cleared the Zarya docking port for the anticipated April 9 arrivalof Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov,who will welcome Williams into their crew and relieve Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin.
TheExpedition 15 cosmonauts are slated to launch April 7 from Baikonur Cosmodromein Kazakhstan with U.S.space tourist Charles Simonyi, who will return with the Expedition 14 crewon April 20. Simonyi is paying more than $20 million for his 13-day spaceflightunder an agreement between Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-basedfirm Space Adventures.
Thursday'sSoyuz relocation marked the second orbital hop for the Expedition 14 crew.Lopez-Alegria, Tyurin and then-Expedition 14 crewmate Thomas Reiter -- of theEuropean Space Agency -- performed a similardocking port swap in October 2006.
"TheSoyuz relocation day is really a long day," ISS Expedition 14 increment managerMelissa Owens told SPACE.com before Thursday's flight. "Effectively, youlose about a week's worth of work to move that Soyuz."
Owenssaid most ISS crews typically perform only one Soyuz relocation during amission, but Thursday's flight was added as a get ahead for the Expedition 15crew. Without the flight, the Expedition 15 astronauts would have had to wedgetheir own Soyuz mini-flight just after settling in aboard the station to makeway for an incoming cargo ship in May.
TheExpedition 14 crew has had somespare time for extra science and ISS maintenance duties due to the delay ofNASA's STS-117 shuttle flight. Hail damage to the Atlantis orbiter'sexternal tank prevented a March 15 launch of the ISS construction mission, witha new liftoff target expected to be announced on April 10.
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