A Soyuz spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts and an American astronaut arrived at the international space station yesterday after approaching so quickly that a danger signal was activated, causing the crew to switch from automatic to manual control. \nThe Soyuz TMA-5, carrying Russians Salizhan Sharipov and Yuri Shargin and American Leroy Chiao, docked with the station at 8:16am Moscow time, just over 49 hours after lifting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday. \nIt was the fourth time a Soyuz had filled in for US space shuttle flights, suspended since the Columbia burned up on re-entry in February last year. \nMission Control staff monitoring the docking at Korolyov, outside Moscow, broke into applause after the spacecraft entered its berth. The crewmen's relatives expressed relief. \n"We were very nervous. This isn't our first time seeing off a crew, but of course when it's about the people you love, it's a different kind of anxiety," said Lyudmila Lutokhina, Shargin's wife. \nJust before the docking, Mission Control decided to switch to manual mode. Soyuz are normally guided by autopilot on their approach to the station and during the docking, but the crew is trained to operate the capsule manually in case of computer failure. \n"At the approach stage, we faced a few divergences in speed. We need to find out the facts and reasons why it happened," said Yuri Semyonov, head of Energiya, the Soyuz's maker. "At the moment of automatic docking, the machine gave a danger signal and the crew had to take manual control." \nMission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov said that with 200m to go before docking at the station, the spacecraft braked and was switched to manual mode. \n"Everything went normally, even though we noted a higher speed, close to dangerous, but the crew acted brilliantly," Solovyov said. \nFred Gregory, the deputy director of the US space agency NASA, agreed, saying the switch from automatic to manual mode was "seamless." \n"It appears that the crew was extremely well trained," he said. \nIn a rare rupture with a tradition of having at least one crewman with previous experience in piloting the capsule, none of the astronauts aboard the Soyuz had flown it before. But space officials downplayed the lack of experience, saying the crew had undergone sufficient training. \nSharipov and Chiao are to replace Russian Gennady Padalka and American Mike Fincke, who are ending a half-year mission on the orbiting station. Padalka and Fincke will return to Earth with Shargin on Oct. 24. \nDuring their six-month mission, Sharipov and Chiao will conduct experiments to research new AIDS vaccines and study plant growth, and will take at least two space walks.
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