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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 18:42 EDT

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks At Space Station

April 7, 2011

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft, carrying two Russians and an American, docked with the International Space Station Wednesday night, just in time to celebrate the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight.

Russia’s tightly guarded secret Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan would not have allowed Americans access fifty years ago at the first launch of Gagarin’s journey into space. It is a different story today.

U.S. astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Smokutyayev and Andrey Borisenko docked with the station at 2309 GMT Wednesday, after a two day journey, reports Russia’s mission control center and NASA.

Garan, Samokutyaev and Borisenko will become Expedition 28 crew members and will live and work in space until September, NASA says.  Kondratyev, Coleman and Nespoli, who were already aboard the ISS will be undocking from the Rassvet module in May and taken back to Earth in their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft. Borisenko will command the station.

The mission is in dedication to Gagarin’s flight which took him around the Earth on a 108-minute, single-orbit flight that raised the stakes in the U.S.-Soviet space race, reports Reuters.

Seven years after the historic flight, Gagarin, who was just 27, died in a mysterious training crash in March of 1968.

Garan, who believes that he was related to Gagarin through a great grandfather who immigrated to the United States under the name Ivan Gagarin, blogged that it was “a giant leap in our evolution as a species,” and that the Soviet cosmonaut’s voyage set the stage for cooperation between nuclear-armed superpowers, reports Reuters.

In comments posted by the Russian space agency in Roscomos, Garan says, “Gagarin is more than just an idol now, but a symbol of the beginning of a new era.”

“Gagarin’s name is a symbol of the conquest of space, a symbol of the dreams of generations of people to fly from our planet beyond the bound of what is possible,” he says.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will also be visiting Gagarin’s hometown located west of Moscow.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the world is a safer and more peaceful place today than it would be otherwise if we had not taken that first step into space,” blogged Garan.

He says that “even at the height of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. still somehow found a way to cooperate during the Apollo-Soyuz program, which accomplished the first docking of U.S. and Russian spacecraft” in 1975.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, Moscow will be welcoming the heads of all of the world’s space agencies. The meeting will also discuss the Russian spacecraft’s role as the only means for taking humans to the ISS when NASA retires its shuttles in 2020.

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