A NASA engineer was one of three astronauts who made a record-breaking journey to the International Space Station last night.
The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft docked with the space station at 10:10 p.m. ET, successfully chasing down the orbiting station in less than six hours.
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 journey uses new techniques that were tested in three recent unpiloted Russian cargo spacecrafts, according to NASA.
Minutes after the docking, Mission Control Moscow reported that the Soyuz capsule reached the station and docked six minutes faster than the last trip.
"Thank you for the excellent space work," an unidentified woman from Mission Control Moscow said to the astronauts just minutes after the docking. "My congratulations to all of you... It's not just us. It's all of us. You're the ones in the frontier."
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:31 p.m. Tuesday to begin the accelerated four-orbit journey to the space station.
The hatches opened at 11:55 p.m. and the three from the space capsule were welcomed by NASA's Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy, Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, who are already onboard the space station.
The six astronauts make up Expedition 36, which will run the space station and conduct experiments there until September, when Cassidy, Vinogradov and Misurkin depart for Earth.
According to NASA, this current space station crew is scheduled to perform spacewalks to ready the station for the installation of a Russian laboratory module in December. The crew also will handle the arrival of cargo vehicles in June, July and August.
Crew members will be working on multiple scientific experiments, such as evaluating ways to prevent bone density loss during long-duration space missions. They'll also be working on growing plants in space, which is expected to help scientists understand how future astronauts could grow their own food during long journeys.
NASA said Expedition 36 also will investigate new ways to analyze the environment inside the station, along with studying how fire behaves in space.
This is NASA astronaut Nyberg's second trip into space. Nyberg, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and is a long-distance runner, visited the station in 2008 aboard the space shuttle Discovery. She was part of a mission to deliver and install a pressurized module portion of the Kibo laboratory and its robotic arm.
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