April 1, 2006

Crew arrive at space station

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Soyuz spacecraft delivered Brazil's
first astronaut and a Russian-U.S. crew to 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.

Dozens of Brazilian, Russian and U.S. space officials at
Mission Control watched on a big screen as the outgoing team --
American Bill McArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev -- welcomed
the newcomers aboard.

"Is Marcos alright?" was the first question asked by
Tokarev when the hatch was opened. Within seconds, a joyful
Pontes could be seen floating in, waving the Brazilian flag.

Pontes, who also packed a Brazilian soccer team shirt, will
return to earth in just over a week with the outgoing crew.

Russian spacecraft have been responsible for shipping crew
and supplies to the station since 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.

The departure of the 13th expedition to the ISS on Thursday
has been marred by a brief communication glitch soon after the
Soyuz blasted off from Baikonur cosmodrome, which Russia leases
from ex-Soviet Kazakhstan.

Russian space officials have said that the glitch did not
threaten the mission.

But the head of Energia corporation, which builds the Soyuz
spacecrafts, said that overloaded communication network created
in 1970s will be upgraded using the latest generation of
satellites to fully meet the demands of busy traffic to the

"We are planning to set up the system of receiving
information from Yamal satellites in the next three months,"
Energia general director Nikolai Sevastyanov told a news
briefing after the docking.

"The council of chief designers has already made such
decision," he added.