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Multinational trio makes the journey to space station in record time

A Soyuz capsule carrying three new crew members successfully docked with the International Space Station on Wednesday, welcoming NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and two crewmates from Russia and Italy.

By Miriam Kramer
Space.com

Three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy have become the newest residents of the International Space Station after a record-setting trip.

Five hours and 40 minutes after a successful Soyuz rocket launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA's Karen Nyberg and Italy's Luca Parmitano docked their Soyuz spacecraft at the orbiting laboratory at 10:10 p.m. ET Tuesday. The new crew will remain on the space station for the next six months.


"I've never felt better in my life," Yurchikhin said just after the Soyuz docked at the station while sailing high above the South Pacific. [See Photos from the Launch and Docking]

Fast track to space
Tuesday's same-day launch and docking was the second express flight to the International Space Station by an astronaut crew.

Unmanned cargo vessels have made this kind of trip several times before, but the one-day missions are a relatively new method of flying for manned Soyuz capsules. Typically, it takes astronauts about two days to reach the space station. The fast-track itinerary calls for the capsule to orbit the Earth only four times, shortening the amount of time the astronauts need to spend in the cramped spaceship.

Watch a Russian Soyuz rocket lift off from Kazakhstan, carrying a U.S.-Italian-Russian crew to the International Space Station.

The first Soyuz crew to fly to the station using this expedited technique were waiting to greet Nyberg, Parmitano and Yurchikhin after the opening of the capsule's hatch. The three newest space station residents will join NASA's Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Pavel Vinogradov to round out the Expedition 36 crew.

"[Your trip was] even faster than Pavel," a Russian mission controller joked with Yurchikhin after docking. The Russian Soyuz commander beat Vinogradov's time to the station by six minutes.

A special group
Nyberg and Yurchikhin are both veteran spacefliers. Yurchikhin has spent more than a year in orbit over the course of three spaceflights, while Nyberg flew for two weeks in 2008 on the space shuttle Discovery.

In contrast, Parmitano is making his first trip into space. The European Space Agency has dubbed his expedition has been dubbed the "Volare" mission.

"Time to go! Thanks for your support and best wishes, see you from Cupola," Parmitano wrote on Twitter (@astro_luca) before launch, referring to the largest window on the space station.

Both Parmitano and Nyberg lead active lives via social media. Before launching into orbit, Nyberg started tagging her posts with the hashtag #simplejoysonearth to bring the experiences she had with her family to the world before leaving for the space station.

"Sun, birds, smell of grass & fresh air; nice walk w/ family along 'Ave of Cosmonauts' #simplejoysonearth," Nyberg wrote on Twitter (@AstroKarenN) before launch. She plans to continue to use social media to share her life in orbit.

Maxim Shipenkov / EPA

Members of the next expedition to the International Space Station, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, center, U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg, left, and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, right, wave during a sending-off ceremony before the Soyuz launch from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The new space station crew has a jam-packed mission ahead. Parmitano and Cassidy are scheduled to perform two spacewalks in July, and Misurkin and Yurchikhin will conduct three spacewalks during the course of their mission. It's also possible that the astronauts will get a chance to carry the Olympic torch onboard the orbiting laboratory.

Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy are scheduled to fly back to Earth in September. Parmitano, Nyberg and Yurchikhin will remain on the station until November.

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