The Soyuz TMA-4 spaceship carrying the crew of the ninth permanent International Space Station mission, successfully docked, automatically, with the ISS at 9:01 a.m., Moscow time. The heads of the space industry and the wives and children of the astronauts, who watched the docking at the flight control center, applauded.
Kurs, the Russian automatic approach and docking system, has proved to be reliable. "There was no need to control the spaceship, though the commander was ready to carry out this manoeuvre independently," a spokesman for the center said. The Soyuz TMA-4 brought Gennady Padalka (Russia) and Michael Fink (U.S.) to the ISS for a 183 day mission. Andre Kuipers (the Netherlands), who has arrived with them, will spend only ten days at the station. He will return to the Earth on April 30 with Alexander Kaleri, a Russian cosmonaut, and Michael Foale, a NASA astronaut, who have been at the ISS since October 2003.
During the 183 day mission on the ISS, Mr. Padalka and Mr. Fink will unload two Progress cargo spacecraft and walk in space twice.
"The previous hosts of the station, Kaleri and Foale, spent more time in orbit, 196 days, and unloaded four and a half metric tons of cargo from three Progress spacecraft, but they only walked in space once," the spokesman for the center told RIA Novosti.
During the ninth mission, a large number of scientific experiments will be done. Within the framework of Diatomea, a long-term experiment, the crew will perform a long distance controlled exploration of the oceans of the world to discover new biologically productive regions.
The Platan experiment will test the composition and the spectrum of cosmic rays in order to determine methods to protect the ISS crew from radiation. During his short stay on the ISS, Mr. Kuipers will carry out a large scientific program called Delta. The Flow experiment in this program will test the in influence of zero gravity on the changes in the sensitivity of hens' osseous cells. The Astin experiment will study the metabolism process of mammal cells in microgravity conditions. Biotechnological studies of the microorganisms living on the ISS and their mutation during long spaceflights will be carried out within the framework of the Sample experiment.
Apart from that, Mr. Padalka and Mr. Fink will conduct important technological experiments for other countries involved in the construction of the ISS.