A Russian Soyuz space capsule carrying astronauts from Russia, Japan and the United States has docked with the International Space Station (ISS) after a two-day voyage. The expedition is slated to last 115 days.
NASA and Russian space agency authorities said the docking took place smoothly at 0406 UTC Saturday at a height of 412 kilometers (254 miles) above the Earth.
The international crew was to enter the space laboratory after the lengthy procedure to open the hatches connecting the orbital space station and the capsule.
The Soyuz-MS capsule carried Russian commander Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA's Kathleen Rubins and Takuya Onishi of the Japanese space agency JAXA to the ISS. They will join US astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin already aboard the space station.
The Soyuz was lifted by a rocket launched Thursday at Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome launch complex in Kazakhstan.
Features of the new Soyuz-MS series include upgraded boosters, an improved navigation system, strengthened shielding and more cells on the capsule's solar panels. The trio's launch was delayed by two weeks as Russian space officials carried out further software tests on the modified vehicle.
The rocket carrying the Soyuz capsule launched at 0136 UTC July 7 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
Destination: International Space Station
The crew plan to perform a series of biological and medical experiments involving manned space flight.
"We hope that with the help of experiments we will be able to develop a set of measures designed to prevent changes during long flights of astronauts," Ivanishin said, according to Russia's Interfax news agency. "It will also apply diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases associated with increased intracranial pressure and will contribute to treating them."
The Japanese astronaut will conduct an experiment on crystals growing in micro-gravity while in orbit. The international team's time in orbit is slated to last 115 days.
jar/tj (AP, Interfax, AFP)