STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION
A Russian Soyuz ferry ship carrying a Russian commander and two NASA astronauts caught up with the International Space Station Friday and executed a flawless docking to close out a two-day rendezvous that began with launch Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
With commander Oleg Artemyev monitoring an automated approach, the Soyuz MS-08/54S spacecraft docked at the station’s upper Poisk module at 3:40 p.m. EDT (GMT-5) as the two spacecraft sailed 254 miles above Serbia in orbital darkness.
After residual motion damped out, hooks and latches in the docking mechanism engaged, pulling the Soyuz in for a firm “hard mate,” kicking off a lengthy series of leak checks to verify an airtight, structurally sound seal.
Hatches were expected to be opened about two hours after docking when Artemyev, Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold were to be welcomed aboard by Expedition 55 commander Anton Shkaplerov, Scott Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai.
All six crew members then planned to float into the Russian Zvezda module for a traditional video conference with senior space managers and family members gathered at the Russian mission control center near Moscow.
After a safety briefing, the newly arrived crew members looked forward to a day off Saturday.
Artemyev, Feustel and Arnold are each making their second visits to the space station. Artemyev spent 169 days aboard the station in 2014, participating in two spacewalks. Arnold flew a single mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 2009 and logged two spacewalks helping install one of the station’s main solar array truss segments.
Feustel participated in two shuttle missions, one in 2009 to service the Hubble Space Telescope and another in 2011 to help finish construction of the space station. He carried out three station spacewalks and three working on Hubble.
Feustel and Arnold will put their spacewalking experience to use next Thursday when they venture outside the station to install wireless communications gear that will be used by an external payload and, eventually, by approaching commercial crew ferry ships being built by Boeing and SpaceX.
They also plan to swap out a high-definition camera and remove suspect hoses in the station’s ammonia coolant system. Two more NASA spacewalks are expected in late May, followed by a Russian excursion in August.
Shkaplerov, Tingle and Kanai were launched to the station in December and plan to return to Earth on June 3 to close out a 167-day mission. Artemyev, Feustel and Arnold expect to remain in space for 159 days, returning to a landing in Kazakhstan on Aug. 28.