New Crew Docks at International Space Station

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A Russian spacecraft docked at the International Space Station Tuesday, boosting the outpost's population from two to five people just ahead of the holidays.

NASA astronaut Timothy (T.J.) Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi launched Sunday, and arrived at the space laboratory a few minutes early at 5:48 p.m. EDT.

They are beginning a six-month tenure at the space station where they will serve on the Expedition 22 and Expedition 23 missions. The newcomers are joining current station commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, who have been onboard since October 2009.

"Welcome to the station guys, your home for six months," Williams radioed to the incoming crew shortly after docking.

The spaceflyers on both spacecraft first checked the seals between them to make sure there were no leaks, in preparation for opening the hatches at 7:35 p.m. EST.

"We look forward to having five crewmembers back on space station, and we look forward to plenty of activities and experiments," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations, during a post-docking news conference in Moscow.

He congratulated the officials from the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, who were also there for the event.

"To get these vehicles ready to go fly and to do the activities that you did this year is a tremendous accomplishment," he said. "My congratulations to you."

Christmas in space

All the station residents will get the day off Dec. 25 to share camaraderie and meals with one another, and to reach out to friends and family back home through phone conversations and e-mail.

After the holidays, though, it's back to work for a packed mission.

In January, Kotov and Suraev are slated to don pressurized spacesuits and perform a spacewalk, or EVA (extravehicular activity) to help install the new Poisk module, which arrived at the station in November.

"The primary objective of that EVA is to do all the things necessary to integrate that new Russian module," Williams said in a preflight interview. "So that's going to require the deployment and connection of some cabling on the outside, primarily, and they will have some secondary tasks as well."

Big year for Japan

The mission is a significant one for Japan, whose huge Kibo laboratory was fully assembled in July. Noguchi will utilize that module particularly, and its cache of research racks.

He will also welcome Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki aboard the station when she arrives with the visiting STS-131 space shuttle mission. It will be the first time two Japanese astronauts are in space at once.

"2009 is a big year for us," Noguchi said in a preflight interview. "I think in general the Japanese people are excited with all the space news these days. Hopefully that will continue in the coming year."

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