Soyuz capsule docks with space station, doubling the crew

Upgrade of solar arrays gives station enough power to host six astronauts for first time

At 8:34 a.m. EDT this morning, the long-term crew of the International Space Station grew to six for the first time in the orbiter's history.

The three crew members onboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft successfully docked with the space station early this morning. European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk have begun their six-month stay on the orbiter.

The arrival of the craft also marks the first time that all five of the space station's international partner agencies - NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency - are represented in orbit.

The Soyuz craft blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

The space station is now able to host more people because of a recent upgrade to its power capabilities.

In March, the crew of NASA's space shuttle Discovery successfully attached a set of energy-harvesting solar arrays to the International Space Station, The upgrade allowed for the doubling of the space station's long term capacity. The solar arrays, which are 230 feet long when spread open and weigh nearly 5,000 pounds on Earth, are designed to gather energy through 32,800 solar cells and then transfer that power to the space station's batteries.

The solar arrays will produce enough energy to power 42 2,800-square-foot homes. That will double the amount of power that goes to science experiments onboard the station.

The extra capacity also allows the space station to support a crew of six to eight astronauts for several months.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon