Soyuz Brings Christmas Tree and Gifts to ISS

A Russian spacecraft carrying an American, a Russian and a Japanese austronaut docked successfully at the International Space Station on Wednesday, officials said.

Russia's Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said the Soyuz TMA-17 hooked up with the station using an automatic docking system at 1:48 a.m. Moscow time Wednesday (2248 GMT Tuesday).

"It was a very smooth automatic docking," Lyndin said. "All systems worked without a hitch."

The spacecraft was launched Monday from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, The Associated Press reports.

US astronaut TJ Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will join American commander Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Suraev aboard the orbiting space station for six months.

Williams and Suraev have been aboard since October and have been holding down the station alone for three weeks since the departure of Belgian, Canadian and Russian crew members of the previous expedition.

'Three new Christmas stockings are hung in the International Space Station,' US mission control in Houston said as the Russian craft hooked up to the station over Brazil at 2248 GMT.

Kotov said before the launch that the five combined crew members would celebrate Christmas together. The Soyuz would serve as Russia's traditional Father Frost, bringing a sack of gifts, Monsters and informs.

NASA pays Russia about $50 million per seat for Soyuz flights.

Kotov, Noguchi and Creamer will oversee the final assembly stage of the $100 billion space station, a project of 16 nations that has been under construction in orbit for more than a decade.

"This increment really sets the stage for the last year of the shuttle program," said Kirk Shireman, NASA's deputy station program manger. "It's a big growth year for the International Space Station," Reuters informs.

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