Clown Arrives at Space Station

The Soyuz TMA-16 (top center) carrying the Expedition 21 crew proceeds toward a docking at the aft end of the Zvezda service module, Oct. 2, 2009. A station radiator protrudes from the bottom while a Zvezda solar array is seen at the top left. NASA TV

A Russian spacecraft carrying cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA flight engineer Jeffrey Williams, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte maneuvered to a smooth docking with the International Space Station early Friday to close out a two-day orbital chase.

As the Soyuz TMA-16 capsule sailed 220 miles above northeast Kazakhstan, CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood reports that the small capsule's docking mechanism engaged its counterpart at the aft port of the Zvezda command module at 4:35 a.m. EDT. Hooks and latches then pulled the Soyuz firmly into place.

"We're here, we arrived!" Williams could be heard saying.

It will take about two orbits to secure the spacecraft and complete extensive leak checks before hatches are opened, allowing Suraev, Williams and tourist Laliberte - dubbed the "space clown" - to enter the space station.

Laliberte's five children and partner Claudia Barilla broke into applause after watching the ship dock on a giant screen at Russian Mission Control outside Moscow.

Laliberte, the 50-year-old founder of Cirque du Soleil, reportedly paid $35 million to become the world's seventh space tourist.

He may be the last for several years, however, once NASA retires its shuttle program and relies on Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to the lab, limiting capsule space.

An experienced acrobat, fire-eater and stilt-walker, Laliberte said he would wear a clown nose aboard the station, and brought several more for his crew mates to try on. He also warned he would tickle them while they sleep.

But he has a serious mission for the trip as well - delivering a message to Earth about the planet's growing shortage of clean water.

He planned to read a poem dedicated to water conservation in a satellite linkup to be shown in 14 cities from October 9.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, pop singer Peter Gabriel and Irish rock group U2 will also participate.

(AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
Quebec-born Laliberte (left), who is worth an estimated $2.5 billion, returns to Earth on October 11 with two of the station's current crew members aboard one of three Soyuz crafts now docked at the station.

Third-time space traveller Williams and first-timer Surayev plan to stay in orbit for 169 days, replacing outgoing commander Gennady Padalka and NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt, who will return to Earth with Laliberte on Oct. 11.

Also aboard the ISS are cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott.

De Winne will take over as Europe's first commander in Padalka's place.


For more info:
International Space Station Main Page (NASA)
CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood's "Space Place" updates
"Moving Stars and Earth for Water" (One Drop Foundation)
About Guy Laliberté's Poetic Social Mission in Space
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