Russian ship with tourist docks with space station

March 28, 2009
The International Space Station on March 25, 2009. A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying second-time space tourist Charles Simonyi along with a US and a Russian astronaut docked Saturday at the International Space Station, media reports quoted the control centre near Moscow as saying.

A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying second-time space tourist Charles Simonyi docked Saturday at the International Space Station, media reports quoted the control centre near Moscow as saying.

Officials said the crew, a US astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut, had overridden the spacecraft's automatic pilots to dock manually after a glitch in an engine caused the Soyuz's computer to stop the process.

"One of the engines had a fault which the computer considered was serious and it began to move the Soyuz away from the ISS at a rate of one metre per second," mission control official Vladimir Sovlov told RIA-Novosti news agency.

"We decided not to allow that and asked the crew to intervene. The commander judged the engine was working normally and we authorised him to approach in manual mode, which was carried out successfully."

The crew checked to ensure there were no leaks in the airlock between the capsule and the space station before the crews of the two vessels joined up, spokesman Valery Lyndin told Interfax news agency.

Simonyi and the Soyuz crew of Russian Gennady Padalka and American Michael Barratt entered the ISS around 1630 GMT, a little over three hours after docking, Russian agencies reported the Moscow control centre as saying.

They were greeted by US astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov. Padalka will take over as the space station's commander, while Barratt becomes the flight engineer.

US software pioneer Simonyi, 60, is the first person to travel twice into space as a tourist, having paid 35 million dollars (28 million euros) for the voyage. He paid 25 million dollars the first time around.

He previously travelled to the space station in April 2007, becoming one of a select group of wealthy civilians, most of them from the United States, to have pioneered .

This time around, he will spend 12 days on board before coming back down to Earth with Fincke and Lonchakov on April 7.

The launch comes as Moscow is doubling the number of manned space launches to meet the needs of the expanding space station, with a second launch due in May.

The head of Russian space agency Rosksomos, Anatoly Perminov, said that for a period it could be the last time a space tourist would be taken on board, but had high praise for Russian-US space cooperation.

Simonyi's trip to space was the seventh by a space tourist since the programme was launched by Roskosmos and US firm Space Adventures in 2001.

But there are plans to raise the number of crew for the ISS from three to six from May, meaning there will no longer be a spare seat for a tourist on future missions.

(c) 2009 AFP

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