A two-man replacement crew and a scientist aboard a Russian spacecraft have arrived at the International Space Station, or ISS. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft, carrying a Russian, an American and a Dutchman, successfully docked with the orbiting space station 360 kilometers above the Earth on Wednesday.
A mission control spokesman says the automatic docking went according to plan, after Monday's fiery lift-off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A short while later, the incoming crew opened the hatches of the docked spaceship and floated over into the ISS. There, they were met by hugs and kisses from the long-time crew, who have been in orbit for the last six months.
After a brief rest, the international crew will get down to some difficult work, according to Flight Department head Vladimir Solovyev at Russian Mission Control outside Moscow. Mr. Solovyev says the crew soon faces some complicated work that, he adds, always carries a risk. He noted that 25 different scientific experiments will be carried out.
Two of the three men launched Monday - Russian commander Gennady Padalka and U.S. flight engineer Michael Fincke -- will spend the next six months in space. During that time, they are scheduled to make two spacewalks.
The third crewmember, Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers with the European Space Agency, will spend a little more than a week in space, conducting experiments involving hundreds of live worms.
He will then head back to Earth on April 30 with the returning crew -- U.S. astronaut Michael Foale and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri.
Russian Soyuz rockets are currently the only way astronauts and equipment can be taken to and from the ISS, after the U.S. space agency, NASA, suspended all its shuttle flights after last year's Columbia space shuttle disaster. All seven Columbia astronauts were killed when the shuttle they were returning to Earth in disintegrated upon re-entry.
Russia would like to see the crews' missions extended from six months to a year, partly to help offset the high costs of keeping the program afloat alone.
But on Tuesday, the U.S. space agency said it would like to delay making any decision on the matter until it can return its own shuttles to flight. That development is expected sometime early next year.