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Saturday, January 31, 1998 Published at 21:41 GMT


Russian rocket docks with Mir
image: [ Mission control telemetry data on a view of the approach to Mir ]
Mission control telemetry data on a view of the approach to Mir

A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying three cosmonauts has successfully docked with the orbiting space station Mir.

The manoeuvre was carried out on automatic pilot some 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

[ image: Applause at mission control]
Applause at mission control
The Soyuz crew has passed through the connecting hatch into the space station to join up with three other cosmonauts there.

The Soyuz craft delivered new station commander Talgat Musabayev, 47, from Kazakhstan, Russian engineer Nikolai Budarin, 44, and Frenchman Leopold Eyharts, 40.

The docking with Mir's scientific module took place about 250 miles (400km) above Western Europe.

[ image: Docking was carried out on auto-pilot]
Docking was carried out on auto-pilot
The Soyuz was launched on Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

US astronaut David Wolf, who had lived on Mir since September, returned to Earth aboard the US Space Shuttle, Endeavour, landing at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Saturday night.

Wolf left Earth on September 25 as concerns were expressed about Mir's safety. He was replaced last weekend by astronaut Andrew Thomas.

Six men will share Mir's cramped quarters for the three weeks until Eyharts and the two Russian cosmonauts now aboard the space station return to Earth in their own Soyuz capsule, now also docked to Mir.

Musabayev and Budarin will spend six months on Mir.

They will continue 12 years of manned space flight by Soviet and Russian cosmonauts and make further repairs to the station, which was badly damaged during a docking training exercise last June.

They may also have to perform another docking training using a Progress cargo tug, the same model that damaged Mir last June.

As well as its human cargo, the Soyuz rocket was carrying six salamanders.

The animals will be studied to see how they react to zero gravity conditions.

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