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American-Russian crew safely dock to space station

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft with a crew of three drift past their new home, the International Space Station, prior to docking on March 27.
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft with a crew of three drift past their new home, the International Space Station, prior to docking on March 27.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American and two Russians docked their spacecraft to the International Space Station on Thursday beginning a six month voyage aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-12M craft arrived at it's port-of-call two days later than planned after a thruster firing failed to work hours after lift-off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 26 (Moscow time).

Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsuv and Oleg Artemyev, and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson docked with the station's Poisk module at 7:53 p.m. EDT, as they flew over southern Brazil.

"A flawless approach, a flawless docking... the trio has arrived at the International Space Station," said NASA spokesperson Rob Navis from inside Mission Control near Houston.

The space trio now join Japan's first space station commander Koichi Wakata, and flight engineers American Rick Mastracchio and Russian Mikhail Tyurin as the complete Expedition 39 crew.

The delayed docking has been attributed to a failed critical Soyuz thruster burn which kept the spacecraft from moving closer to it's target at an exact time during it's orbit.

Russian Mission Control remains unsure as to why they received a failure message at the time of the thruster jet firing.

The two space crews began chatting an hour prior to docking as the Soyuz approached from 23 km below the space station.

"We have a visual on the station!" exclaimed Soyuz commander Skvortsuv as they soared 260 miles above the western Pacific Ocean.

The orbital ballet saw the Soyuz fire it's thrusters in a series of burns which brought the craft to the proper alignment for the slow approach.

"You can see the thrusters did some work here," Skvortsuv commented moments after a successful burn brought their Soyuz even closer a few minutes later.

Two and one-half hours following the successful docking, the two crews opened the hatches between the two spacecraft for the traditional handshake in space at 10:34 p.m.

Swanson is scheduled to become the next space station commander beginning on May 13 as Wakata and his crew say good-bye to the outpost for the trip home.

On July 11, the International Space Station will mark a milestone as it celebrates the 5000th consecutive day in which it has been manned by a crew.

Swanson, Skvortsuv and Artemyev will return inside their Soyuz craft and return back to earth on September 11.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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