Friday, June 18, 2010

Russian, US astronauts dock with ISS: official

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A Russian space ship carrying a Russian cosmonaut and two US astronauts on Friday docked successfully with the International Space Station, mission control officials said.

The Soyuz-FG rocket, which blasted off Wednesday for the ISS, carried Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and US astronauts Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock who opened the airlocks some two hours after docking.

The Vesti-24 television channel showed the new arrivals heartily hugging the station's current crew and smiling.

The team is expected to conduct several scientific tests, unload three Progress shuttles, and assemble an experimental satellite, space officials said earlier.

The astronauts would also maintain an Internet blog and an email mailbox to supply information on the station and space as a whole.

The mission is the last launch by a Soyuz rocket to the ISS before the US space shuttle program is mothballed later this year, leaving the burden of travel to the ISS entirely on Russian spacecraft.

Russia's space agency Roskosmos decided to increase production of Soyuz spacecraft from four to five a year, the chief of the company's pilot program Alexei Krasnov said Friday.

"There are plans on making a fifth ship (every year), we will definitely move in that direction, and I think there will be funding for this ship, so there is reason to speak of it," Krasnov told reporters as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Despite losing the shuttles Columbia and Challenger in a pair of disasters the programme was considered a resounding success and soon took on the lion's share of responsibility for transporting US astronauts.

A successor to the space shuttle is scheduled to take off no earlier than 2015.

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