Three-man crew makes it to ISS after delay

2014-03-28 09:30
(Paolo Nespoli, Nasa, AP)

(Paolo Nespoli, Nasa, AP)

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Moscow - A Russian spacecraft carrying a three-man Russian and US crew on Friday docked successfully at the International Space Station after an unprecedented two-day delay caused by a technical hitch.

The Soyuz TMA-12M carrying Russia's Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and Nasa's Steve Swanson docked at 03:53 Moscow time (11:53 GMT on Thursday), Russia's mission control said.

"The Soyuz TMA-12M docked automatically to the docking module of the Russian segment of the ISS," mission control said in a statement on its website.

Skvortsov was first to open the hatch into the ISS around 07:00 Moscow time (03:00 GMT), hugging the crewmembers already on board and grinning broadly.

"That was fun... It's a lot more spacious in here," Skvortsov said in a video link-up from the ISS.

Failure

The trio were originally to have docked with the ISS early on Wednesday, just six hours after launch from Kazakhstan, but their Soyuz spacecraft suffered a technical glitch on its approach in orbit.

They had to orbit the Earth 34 times before their rendezvous with the international space laboratory, instead of the fast-track route of four orbits originally envisaged.

"It was a long two days but we made it. Glad to be here," Swanson said on a video link-up from the ISS.

The issue arose once their Soyuz capsule was in orbit and a thruster failed to fire to assist its approach for docking with the ISS.

US space agency NASA said in a statement on its website that the Soyuz spacecraft "was unable to complete its third thruster burn to fine-tune its approach" to the orbiting space station.

The Soyuz capsule later carried out three manoeuvres in orbit bringing it on the correct trajectory for the adapted two-day route to the ISS.

The head of the Russian rocket state firm Energia that supplies the Soyuz rocket that propels the craft into space however said that the origin of the problem was not yet clear.

"It could be mathematics, it could be a transmitter problem or that the engine choked. But most likely it was a mathematical problem," said Vitaly Lopota on Wednesday.

Co-operation

This would imply that ground scientists failed to work out the correct altitude in orbit for the thruster to fire to take the Soyuz to the ISS.

A commission has been formed to pinpoint the cause of the error.

Russia first used a fast-track route for sending manned spacecraft to the ISS last year.

The flight director for the Russian section of the ISS, Vladimir Solovyov, vowed on Friday that Russia would continue to use the fast-track route.

"We will continue to work according to this scheme. You can't scare us off with just this one thing," he said, cited by the Itar-Tass news agency.

After the retirement of the US shuttle, Nasa is for now wholly reliant on Russia for delivering astronauts to the space station.

The trio bring the ISS crew up to six by joining incumbent crew Koichi Wakata of Japan, American Rick Mastracchio and Russian Mikhail Tyurin, who are due to leave in May.

Space officials have made clear that space co-operation will continue unaffected by the mounting diplomatic strains that have seen the US impose sanctions on Russian officials over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

At the pre-flight news conference at Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Skvortsov and Swanson said that they had decided to have dinners together on board the ISS "as an opportunity to come together as friends in the kitchen and look each other in the eye".

"I think we will all be able to live peacefully together," Skvortsov said.
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