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Russian Spacecraft Docks at International Space Station

The three-man crew of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, including the first Brazilian to go to space, has joined the two-man crew in the International Space Station.

The Soyuz docked at the ISS on autopilot, after the two-day flight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian Cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, American astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Brazilian Marcos Pontes entered the station a short time later.

Traditionally it is the head of mission, or Vinogradov, who goes in first.
But this time, the honor was conferred on Pontes, much to the delight of millions of his countrymen and women watching a live television feed back home in Brazil, where he has become a national hero.

The first Brazilian spaceman unfurled his country's flag, and smiled as he was greeted by American William MacArthur and Russia's Valery Tokarev, who have been on the station since last October.

Pontes, 43, is a Brazilian air force officer, who will stay on the station for the next nine days, conducting various experiments, before returning to earth with the current two-man crew on April 9.

Vinogradov and Williams are then due to spend the next six months on the International Space Station.

They will prepare for the arrival of a U.S. space shuttle in July, which will bring Thomas Reiter from Germany, who will also make an extended stay in space.

The ISS has depended on the Russian space program to ferry crews and cargo to and from the station since the Columbia shuttle disaster three years ago.

The shuttle Discovery did make a trip to the ISS last July, but had problems with the foam insulation on its external fuel tank.

NASA engineers say changes made since then should make everything ready for another flight this coming July.