The Russian Soyuz spacecraft, carrying astronauts from the European, Russian and American space agencies, docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday.
Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, a rookie astronaut, is the first French national sent to the ISS by the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2008. Russian Oleg Novitskiy, a pilot in the Russian Air Force and decade-long veteran of Russian space agency Roscosmos, made his second trip to the ISS. American astronaut, Peggy Whitson, is a space travel veteran and biochemistry expert who will break the record for most days in space by an American astronaut on this trip. Whitson previously commanded the ISS in 2007 and was the first woman to command the orbiting station, according to American space agency NASA.
Three fellow astronauts greeted the new arrivals Saturday. Russians Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov and American Shane Kimbrough, already manning the ISS, hugged their new crewmates after the two day journey from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan.
"Watching you, we could not be more proud,” NASA administrator Charles Boden told the crew from Earth.
The crew will conduct experiments involving biology and physical sciences under the microgravity conditions in the orbiting spaceship.
Each seat on a Soyuz rocket, which can carry three astronauts at a time, reportedly costs more than $71 million (67 million euros). This is currently the only way for astronauts to reach the ISS, after the US space shuttle program was phased out in 2011. Private companies, including SpaceX and Boeing are designing spaceships to send astronauts to and from the ISS from the US once again. The first flights are not expected until late 2017 at the earliest.
More than 200 people from 18 countries have been to the ISS, which circles the Earth from 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the planet. Humans have lived on the space station for more than 15 years.
kbd/kl (AFP, dpa)