Soyuz Capsule with Crew of 3 Arrives at Space Station After Docking Glitch

Soyuz Capsule with Crew of 3 Arrives at Space Station After Docking Glitch

A Soyuz space capsule carrying travelers from Russia, the United States & United Kingdom arrived at the International Space Station today (Dec. 15), with its cosmonaut commander manually docking the spacecraft after its autopilot unexpectedly aborted an initial attempt.

Veteran cosmonaut & Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko docked the Soyuz TMA-19M with the space station at 12:33 p.m. EST (1733 EST) as both spacecraft sailed 252 miles (406 kilometers) above India, NASA officials said. The Soyuz, which moreover carried NASA astronaut Tim Kopra & U.K. Space Agency's Tim Peake, launched to the space station early this morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan & reached the station after a 6-hour journey. 

"We've finally arrived," Malenchenko radioed down in Russian as the astronauts began to secure the vehicle to the side of the station. [Watch video of the Soyuz's launch into space] 

Malenchenko took manual control of the Soyuz after the ship's automatic Kurs rendezvous system unexpectedly aborted the first docking attempt, for reasons still unknown, NASA officials said. The craft reached within 65 feet (20 meters) of the space station before swiftly reversing course.

After the switch to manual, Malenchenko backed further away from the station, tested the vehicle's controls & deftly piloted the Soyuz to its docking port over the course of just 11 minutes with the assist of the Russian Mission Control in Moscow. 

At 2:25 p.m. EST (1925 GMT) today, the hatches were due to be opened between the Soyuz & the Russian segment of the space station. Once that occurs, the three will be greeted by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly & cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko & Sergey Volkov. 

Russia's Soyuz spacecraft can fly autonomously, through programs activated by the mission crew & ground control team, yet manual control capabilities are included in case of any difficulty. "A manual docking is something that Soyuz crews do train extensively for," NASA spokesman Dan Huot said during live commentary of the docking.

Malenchenko was particularly up to the task: He is a veteran of six space missions, both to the International Space Station & Russia's Mir space station, & he has commanded the Soyuz during launch multiple times.

Today's launch is particularly significant because it is carrying Peake, the first-ever British astronaut to visit the International Space Station. He & the other two new crewmembers will stay on board for six months working on the orbiting lab's many experiments before returning to Earth in June on the same Soyuz spacecraft.

Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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