A Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts has docked at the International Space Station, just six hours after blasting off. Typically, manned Soyuz flights to the ISS last more than two days.
Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin and US astronaut Chris Cassidy took the express route to the International Space Station overnight Thursday, docking in the early hours of Friday morning.
They will join three other crew members and remain on board for five months.
"It's such a beautiful sight, hard to believe my eyes," the 59-year-old Vinogradov, making his third visit to space, said in footage broadcast on NASA TV.
In past manned flights, the Soyuz capsule has completed 50 orbits of Earth on its journey to the ISS, a trip taking roughly 50 hours. This trip was made in only four orbits, a more complex route that was previously tested in unmanned flight.
"From a technical point of view, we feel pretty comfortable with this," Cassidy had said prior to lift-off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan.
"All of the procedures are very similar to what we do in a two-day process and we've trained it a number of times."
As well as being quicker, the express journey was said to improve the crews' ability to dock, as the adverse effects of weightlessness only start to take effect after four or five hours. It would also mean that the Soyuz capsule could transport biological materials to the ISS for experiments before they spoil.
The new arrivals join Canadian Chris Hadfield, NASA's Tom Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko aboard the ISS.
msh/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters)