ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter has arrived at Russia's Mir space station, his orbiting home for the next 133 days. The Soyuz capsule, carrying the German-born astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, docked with the 120-tonne space complex this afternoon at 12:30 CEST. The three men blasted off two days earlier from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in the steppes of Kazakhstan.
"Our Russian partners have once again proved the reliability of their space hardware," said Jörg Feustel-Büechl, director of manned and microgravity programmes at ESA, who watched the successful docking from the TsUP mission control near Moscow. "Our astronaut and his support team on Earth have an exciting four and a half months ahead of them. This mission will prepare ESA's astronaut corps for work aboard the international space station and offers European scientists an unprecedented opportunity to study for research in space."
The Soyuz first circled the station at a distance of 90-120 metres before docking under automatic control. The link-up with the station's forward port occurred as the two craft passed 400 kilometres over central Russia. After checking the air tightness of the hatches, the Soyuz TM-22 crew removed their pressure suits and prepared to enter the space station. Reiter and his Russian colleagues, Sergei Avdeev and Yuri Gidzenko, floated through the hatch into Mir about an hour and a half later. They were greeted by the current Mir crew, Anatoli Solovyev and Nikoli Budarin, with the traditional Russian offering of bread and salt. Back-dropped by the flags of ESA and Russia, the crews received congratulations from ESA and Russian officials at mission control.
Solovyev and Budarin, who flew to Mir aboard the US shuttle in June, are due to return to Earth in Soyuz TM-21 on 11 September. They will leave Avdeev, Gidzenko and Reiter in charge of the station.
Lasting a record-breaking 135 days, EUROMIR 95 is the longest ESA manned spaceflight. Highlights of the flight will include a spacewalk by Reiter on 20 October and later in the year a docking of the US space shuttle Atlantis. Scientific research will include 41 experiments, spanning the fields of life sciences, materials and astrophysics. In addition, as the mission's flight engineer, Reiter will gather valuable experience for ESA's role in the International Space Station, which is due for construction later this decade.
EUROMIR 95 mission is scheduled to end on 16 January 1996.