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Russian capsule at International Space Station

The International Space Station has received three new residents with the arrival of a Russian capsule, doubling the size of its female crew to an all-time high.

NASA, meanwhile, was keeping close watch on three pieces of space junk that could come uncomfortably close to the orbiting outpost this weekend. They are old Russian and Chinese satellite and rocket parts.

The Soyuz spacecraft - launched two days earlier from Kazakhstan - docked at the orbiting outpost as the vessels zoomed 220 miles above the Atlantic near Argentina.

It's NASA's method of getting US astronauts to and from the space station for lengthy missions, and will become the only means of getting people there once the shuttles stop flying late this year or next.

Russian space officials said the docking went exactly as planned and demonstrated the reliability of the Soyuz.

The arrival of the latest Soyuz means there are now two women living full time at the space station for the first time ever. No previous space station ever had two female residents at the same time, so the docking marked a historic first.

Shannon Walker, a physicist from Houston, joins Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a California-born chemist on board the space station since April. Four men also are on board now: three Russians and one American. Each will stay for six months and return via a Soyuz.

All six took part in a group hug once the hatches swung open, then accepted a stream of congratulations from space agency managers, families and friends gathered in Russia's Mission Control outside Moscow.

NASA wants to re-evaluate the orbit of the space station - taking into account any changes as a result of the Soyuz docking - before deciding whether to move the outpost away from the three pieces of space junk.

Mission managers decided there was no need to dodge a fourth piece of junk, which was expected to pass the station at a safe distance.


From Belfast Telegraph