A Russian Soyuz spacecraft linked up with the International Space Station Thursday with two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut aboard on a mission that doubled the outpost's population and may see the last NASA shuttle flight ever to visit the orbiting lab.
The Soyuz TMA-19 docked with the space station at 6:21 p.m. EDT (2221 GMT) as both spacecraft flew 220 miles (354 km) over the Atlantic Ocean near Argentina. The orbital arrival boosted the space station's crew back up to full strength, with six people now living at the orbiting lab.
"Contact!" radioed cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia's Federal Space Agency to Mission Control in Moscow as the two spaceships hooked up. Yurchikhin commanded the Soyuz flight to the station, which began two days earlier with a dazzling predawn launch from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Thursday's Soyuz docking also marked a milestone for women in space. For the first time, there are two female astronauts – NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Tracy Caldwell Dyson – serving together on a long-duration spaceflight.
Walker arrived on the new Soyuz, while Caldwell Dyson has been living on the space station with two Russian crewmates since early April. Their four male crewmates include three Russians and one American.
Yurchikhin and Walker arrived at the station with NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock. The trio is beginning a 5 1/2-month spaceflight that, if all goes according to plan, should host the two final space shuttle missions before NASA retires its space plane fleet later this year.
Wheelock has said seeing the end of NASA's storied shuttle program during the flight will be bittersweet, but he looked forward to preparing the space station to continue flying after the shuttle era now that it has been extended through at least 2020.
"We're very excited about that and that's probably the biggest task that we have, is bringing the station to full utilization," Wheelock said before launch.
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