April 1, 2006

Brazilian, Russia-US Crew Dock at Space Station

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Soyuz spacecraft carrying Brazil's first astronaut and a Russian-U.S. crew docked at the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, two days after blasting off from earth.

"The docking was smooth and the crew are now preparing to open the hatches to enter the ISS," a spokesman for mission control, situated outside Moscow, said.

Marcos Pontes, a 43-year-old Brazilian Air Force pilot, had spent the journey hunched inside the capsule with Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams, both off whom are starting a six-month rotation in space.

Pontes, who packed a Brazilian soccer team shirt, returns to earth in just over a week with the outgoing crew, American Bill McArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev.

Russian spacecraft bear the responsibility for shipping crew and supplies to the station after NASA grounded its shuttle fleet after failing to fix a technical problem that killed seven astronauts in 2003.

Soyuz rockets have proved safer than the shuttle despite their 1960s heritage.