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Space Station Receives First Inhabitants As Soyuz Arrives

By William Harwood
THE WASHINGTON POST

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA

An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts docked with the international space station early Thursday, establishing what managers of the $60 billion program hope will be a permanent foothold in space.

Launched from Kazakhstan on Tuesday aboard a Russian Soyuz ferry craft, station commander William Shepherd, Soyuz pilot Yuri Gidzenko and flight engineer Sergei Krikalev docked with the international outpost at 4:21 a.m. EST after a smooth, automated rendezvous.

After checking seals between the two spacecraft, Gidzenko and Krikalev opened hatches leading into the Russian command module Zvezda where the Expedition One crew will live and work for the next four and a half months.

“I’d like to say we’re all really glad to be here. It was a long journey, but we made it,” Shepherd said. “There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride, a new confidence now that the (U.S.-Russian) team actually can function together,” said James Van Laak, manager of space station integration and operations. “It’s a great moment.”

But NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, speaking at a news conference at the Russian mission control center near Moscow, warned that ongoing funding shortfalls in Russia threaten the future of the program at the moment it is literally taking off.

“Due to the economic situation in Russia, this outstanding team (of Russian engineers) has not had the financial support of the Russian government,” Goldin said.

“We are partners. And partners have to do what they say they’re going to do,” he said. “And this is what I look forward to being resolved in the months ahead. We cannot go on operating the way we have been operating.”

Yuri Semenov, general designer and president of Rocket Space Corporation Energia, builder of the Zvezda command module, bristled at repeated questions about Russian funding problems and said his company was spending its own money to honor obligations made, but not yet paid for, by the government.

“We are taking every measure with the Russian government and it looks like we are making progress,” he said. But he agreed the funding issue is an unresolved “sore point”.

The Soyuz is gently docked to a port on the aft end of the Zvezda module.