The International Space Station is a crowded house again. Shortly before 11:00 AM EDT, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked at the space station carrying three passengers: one astronaut, one cosmonaut, and one honored guest. The trio joins the current crew of three onboard the ISS, swelling its occupancy over the next nine days. During that time, the overlapping crews will work on replenishing supplies aboard the orbiting science platform and transferring knowledge of the station's operations; and a privileged fellow traveler will get to have the experience of a lifetime.
The two new crew members, the 16th in their line, are Commander Peggy Whitson (NASA) and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko (Roskosmos). The special guest is Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor of Malaysia. They join Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roskosmos) and Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov (Roskosmos) and Clay Anderson (NASA), according to a prepared statement from the U.S. space agency.
Shukor is designated officially as a "spaceflight participant" traveling "under contract" with the Russian space agency. An orthopedic surgeon by profession, he is a representative of the Malaysian National Space Agency and the first Malaysian to travel to outer space. While he has been assigned tasks to perform in research on space medicine during his nine-day visit, he will certainly have opportunities to enjoy perks afforded to those who have unofficially been dubbed space tourists.
Whitson and Malenchenko, both previous ISS veterans, will remain on the station for the next six months, accompanied by Anderson, who will remain onboard offering guidance to the new crew until he is replaced next month by a member of the next flight of the Discovery space shuttle.
With a complement of space travelers from around the world coming and going, the ISS is still living up to the word international in its name.