A Russian cosmonaut and astronauts from the United States and Japan arrived at the International Space Station today (Dec. 19) to kick off a six-month space mission. And in the true Christmas spirit, they brought gifts. [Holidays in Space: An Astronaut Photo Album]
Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai docked their Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft at the station at 3:39 a.m. EST (0839 GMT) as both craft sailed high over the "boot" of Italy, NASA officials said. The trio joined three other crewmembers already aboard — Americans Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, and Russian Alexander Misurkin — to round out the station's Expedition 54 crew.
One thing is certain: It's going to be a festive time in space in the days ahead.
"We [already] have a Christmas tree aboard, and there is a new Christmas tree arriving soon," Shkaplerov told reporters Saturday (Dec. 16), one day before he, Tingle and Kanai launched into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan. "We have packages and gifts from our families and friends, and packages on board the ISS labeled to open on Dec. 25 for U.S. crewmembers and Dec. 31 for us from Russia."
Shkaplerov is making his third spaceflight on this mission, while Tingle and Kanai are on their first flight. The three men will serve as part of the Expedition 54 crew through February, then stay on as the Expedition 55 crew after Acaba, Vande Hei and Misurkin return to Earth.
Shkaplerov, Tingle and Kanai will return to Earth in June, NASA officials have said.