NASA's Mark Vande Hei, 2 cosmonauts dock at Int'l Space Station

April 9 (UPI) -- A joint U.S.-Russia crew aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully docked at the International Space Station Friday morning about 261 miles in the skies above northern China, officials said.

The Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 a.m. EDT with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov on board.


The Soyuz MS-18 booster docked with the Earth-facing side of the Russian segment of the space station at 7:05 a.m. EDT following a two-orbit, three-hour flight, NASA said.

The hatch opening is scheduled for about 9 a.m.

With the arrival of Expedition 65, the station's population grew from seven to 10 for a few days.

The three men join the crew of Expedition 64, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov -- who have been there since October -- and the four-member crew of SpaceX Dragon Resilience, who entered the orbital a month later.

"Hey, Expedition 64 -- set the dinner table for 10 tonight," Vande Hei tweeted shortly before liftoff. "Can't wait to join you on [the space station] in a few hours!"

Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are scheduled to depart for Earth next week with Shannon Walker of SpaceX to assume command during a ceremony on Thursday, NASA spokesman Dan Huot said.

The journey occurs days before the 60th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in space on April 12, 1961.

To mark the occasion, Expedition 65 has a special mission patch adorning the fairing of their launch vehicle, Huot said.

It is Vande Hei's second trip to the station.

NASA said Expeditions 64 and 65 will continue with hundreds of biology, biotechnology, physical science experiments aboard "humanity's only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory.

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