New crew arrives at space station just in time for Christmas


Washington : A Russian Soyuz spacecraft brought an international group of holiday visitors to the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday, expanding the crew to five just ahead of Christmas.

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US astronaut TJ Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will join American commander Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Suraev aboard the orbiting space station for six months.

Williams and Suraev have been aboard since October and have been holding down the station alone for three weeks since the departure of Belgian, Canadian and Russian crew members of the previous expedition.

“Three new Christmas stockings are hung in the International Space Station,” US mission control in Houston said as the Russian craft hooked up to the station over Brazil at 2248 GMT.

Kotov said before the launch that the five combined crew members would celebrate Christmas together. The Soyuz would serve as Russia’s traditional Father Frost, bringing a sack of gifts along with a large Christmas tree, Kotov said.

Noguchi is carrying the makings for sushi for the entire team – and a toy tiger to salute the coming Chinese year of the tiger.

The station’s five residents have a busy schedule, which includes a spacewalk in January from Russia’s Pirs airlock and flying the Soyuz from its dock at the end of the Zvezda service module to the new Poisk module.

In February, the station crew is to receive Russia’s Progress, an unmanned resupply ship, and the US space agency’s Endeavour shuttle, the US agency, NASA, said in a statement.

This is the final year for the ageing shuttle programme, after which all crew members will be transported to the station aboard the Soyuz.