Russian Spacecraft Docks At Orbiting Station

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A U.S.-Russian space team sent their Easter greetings down to Earth Sunday after their Soyuz spacecraft docked flawlessly at the International Space Station.

"Happy Easter to you all," Souyz captain Russian Alexander Skvortsov said in a broadcast from the station shortly after the ship hooked up with the orbiting station using an automatic docking system.

His teammates, California native Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian Mikhail Kornienko joined him in greeting the world's Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians who celebrate their belief in Jesus' resurrection on the same day this year because of a coincidence in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

The docking finished at 9:26 a.m. Moscow time (0526 GMT). The Soyuz was launched Friday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the three joined the station's current inhabitants, U.S. astronaut Timothy J. Creamer, Soichi Noguchi of Japan and Russia's Oleg Kotov.

Within three days, a seven-person crew aboard the Shuttle Discovery will dock at the station for a 13-day mission. During this period, four women will be in space at the same time, which is a first in history.

The expedition led by Skvortsov, a seasoned military pilot who is making his maiden flight to space, will end in September, just as the United States' last-ever shuttle flight launches from the Kennedy Space Center.

With the winding down of the shuttle, the Soyuz - which launched the world's first satellite into space in 1957 - is set to take on the burden of carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

Dependance on the Russian-made spacecraft will increase over the next few years with only four launches left for the space shuttle before it is retired. That will leave NASA without its own means to send astronauts into space for the first time in half a century. Five manned Soyuz launches are planned for next year.

The mammoth International Space Station is the biggest orbiting outpost ever built and can sometimes be seen from the Earth with the naked eye. It now consists of 13 modules built by the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency.