Russian capsule docks at space station

March 28, 2009 6:50:55 AM PDT
A Soyuz capsule carrying a Russian cosmonaut, an American astronaut and U.S. billionaire tourist Charles Simonyi docked at the international space station Saturday. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka manually guided the capsule to a stop slightly ahead of schedule two days after blasting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Applause broke out among Russian and U.S. space officials and relatives of the crew after officials at Russia's mission control in Korolyov, on Moscow's outskirts, announced the hook-up.

The crews of the capsule and the station will spend around three hours checking seals and instruments before opening the air locks and meeting face-to-face.

It was not immediately clear why Russian engineers ordered Padalka to manually steer the Soyuz into the station; the Russian capsules usually dock under autopilot.

Padalka and U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt will join the station's current crew, while Simonyi, who is making his second trip as a paying customer to the space station, returns to Earth on April 7 along with cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov and NASA astronaut Michael Fincke.

Simonyi, a Hungarian-born software designer who helped build software for Microsoft Corp., is expected to be the last paying customer to travel aboard Russian spacecraft to the station for the foreseeable future since the station's permanent crew is expanding from three to six.

During his time on the station, Simonyi plans to conduct medical and radiation experiments and chat with his family and schoolchildren via communication links.

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