After four orbits around Earth and a six-hour journey, three astronauts arrived at the International Space Station early today, bringing with them the Olympic torch that will light the Olympic flame in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Games.
Flying at 260 miles above the Earth, the astronauts, aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft, approached the space station, where crew members used one of the station's robotic arms to grab the spacecraft where it dock with the station.
The new crew members, NASA's Rick Mastracchio, Russia's Mikhail Tyurin and Japan's Koichi Wakata, are getting settled in the space that will be their home until May.
The spacecraft docked at 5:27 a.m. today after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:14 p.m. Wednesday.
The new arrivals joined the six crew members already on the space station. It's also the first time that nine people have lived on the orbiting station since 2009 without the presence of a space shuttle. It won't be crowded on the space station for long.
On Sunday, NASA's Karen Nyberg, Luca Parmitano with the European space agency, and Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin will wrap up their work on the orbiter, and ride the Soyuz spacecraft back to Earth.
Before then, on Saturday, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy are set to carry out the newly arrived Olympic torch on a historic spacewalk.
Trips to the space station have become faster in recent months. In March, a Soyuz spacecraft made a record-breaking six-hour journey from Earth to the space station.
Historically, it has taken NASA's space shuttle fleet, as well as Russian Soyuz spacecraft, two days from launch to rendezvous with the space station. The faster trip is possible with new techniques that were tested in three earlier unpiloted Russian cargo space crafts.
NASA's Richard Mastracchio, Russia's Mikhail Tyurin and Japan's Koichi Wakata arrive at the International Space Station on Thursday, in a trip that six hours and 14 minutes after launching in a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. (Video: NASA)
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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