Russian capsule docks with international space station, crew welcomes first guests

Tuesday, October 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ The three men living on the international space station welcomed their first guests Tuesday with the arrival of a Russian spaceship carrying two cosmonauts and a French researcher.

The Soyuz capsule docked with space station Alpha two days after rocketing away from Kazakstan. The capsule will serve as a fresh lifeboat for the space station residents, replacing the Soyuz that has been docked to the orbiting outpost for the past six months.

Arriving via the Soyuz were Russians Viktor Afanasyev and Konstantin Kozeyev and French astronaut-physician Claudie Haignere. Afanasyev, the commander of the Soyuz, steered the capsule in for the 250-mile-high linkup over China.

Haignere, the first European woman to visit the space station, led the way in. Each of the guests received a warm hug from the space station's American commander, Frank Culbertson.

As the six space travelers gathered for a photo, a flight controller at Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow offered this advice: ``Guys, put the woman in the front. Always, women in the front.'' It was all for naught; the TV images were dark and grainy and the link was lost. It was restored later.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who watched the docking from Russian Mission Control, relayed greetings from himself and Haignere's husband, a former astronaut. Jospin told Haignere she was an inspiration, especially to France's young people.

Haignere spoke with her husband, mother and 3-year-old daughter, Carla. Carla wanted to see her teddy bear, which her mother had taken into space. Smiling and waving, Haignere held the toy in front of the space station cameras.

Until Tuesday, Culbertson and his two Russian crewmates had not seen anyone face to face since they moved into the complex in August. They are midway through a four-month mission.

Culbertson immediately gave a safety briefing for his guests and showed them around.

Besides delivering a new Soyuz capsule, the visitors _ especially Haignere, a rheumatologist _ will conduct scientific experiments over the next week. They will leave in the old Soyuz and return to Earth on Oct. 31.

That old Soyuz arrived at the space station in April. On board for a one-week visit was the world's first paying space tourist, Dennis Tito, a millionaire businessman from California.

Haignere's trip is sponsored by the French Space Agency, which brokered the commercial deal with Russian space officials. She became the first Frenchwoman in space in 1996, when she visited the Russian space station Mir for two weeks.

NASA officials said because Haignere is a professional astronaut, she will not have the same restrictions aboard the space station that Tito had. Tito spent almost all his time on the Russian side of the station and ventured over to the U.S. side only when accompanied by American astronauts.

Culbertson and his crewmates, cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, are scheduled to return to Earth via space shuttle Endeavour in December.