Russian cosmonauts switch parking spots while moving 17,000 mph

To open up a spot at the International Space Station for a new Russian research module, Russian cosmonauts moved their Soyuz craft to a different parking spot Wednesday.

A the International Space Station, Russian cosmonauts maneuvered their Soyuz craft to a new parking spot Wednesday.

Astronauts on the International Space Station moved a Soyuz spaceship to a different parking post Wednesday to make room for a brand-new Russian research module to be delivered next week on NASA's shuttle Atlantis.

Russian-built Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft undocked from an Earth-facing port the space station at 9:26 a.m. EDT (1326 GMT) and linked up to an empty parking spot at the rear of the space station just 17 minutes later. Three of the station's six crewmembers rode aboard the Soyuz during the brief space hop.

While the Soyuz parking spot swap seems short, the task was absolutely vital to prepare the space station for the arrival of NASA's space shuttle Atlantis next week.

IN PICTURES: Aboard the International Space Station

"It is a prerequisite, or a requirement, for the flight," Atlantis' payload manager Robbie Ashley told reporters Tuesday.

Atlantis is set to launch Friday from Florida at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT) and arrive at the station Sunday to deliver Russia's new science module Rassvet (which means "Dawn" in Russian). The mission is expected to NASA's 132nd shuttle mission and final flight of Atlantis.

Rassvet is a 23-foot (7-meter) cylinder equipped with a small airlock for experiments that will be attached to an Earth-facing berth on the station's Russian Zarya control module. The Rassvet module is also known as the Mini-Research Module 1. [Graphic: Russia's Rassvet space module.]

Before today's Soyuz move, the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft was docked to Rassvet's destination on the station. So its move had to go smoothly to allow Atlantis's upcoming mission.

Atlantis is poised to launch toward the space station on Friday at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Station in Florida. In addition to the Rassvet module, the shuttle is carrying about 1 ton of cargo inside the new Russian room and some spare parts for the nearly complete orbiting laboratory.

Station commander Oleg Kotov, a Russian cosmonaut, and crewmates Timothy "T.J." Creamer of NASA and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi were aboard the Soyuz TMA-17 vehicle during the brief spaceflight. Two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut remained inside the station during the move.

Atlantis' six-astronaut crew plans to fly a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Three spacewalks are planned.

IN PICTURES: Aboard the International Space Station

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