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Space tourist docks with ISS

$17m, 10-day jaunt for Richard Garriott

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Space tourist Richard Garriott is about to begin his 10-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) following a successful docking this morning of the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft (see pic) which launched on Sunday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-13 approaches the International Space Station. Pic: NASAComputer games designer Garriott, 47, paid Space Adventures around $17m for the privilege of joining American Mike Fincke and Russian Yuri Lonchakov on Expedition 18 to the outpost. His father, Owen Garriott, spent 60 days aboard Skylab back in 1973, and he'll apparently spend some of his stay snapping the Earth's surface to see how it's changed since dad's time in orbit.

Garriott will return to Earth in a Soyuz TMA-12 on 23 October with Expedition 17 crew members Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, who've been aloft since 8 April. The third ISS crew member to welcome Expedition 18 is Gregory E Chamitoff, who arrived aboard Discovery's STS-124 mission which launched on 31 May.

Fincke and Lonchakov are both ISS vets, with the former on his second gig, and the latter on his third tour. They'll be on board for six months, during which the crew will prep the station's life-support equipment for a permanent compliment of six crew members from next year.

Chamitoff will be relieved in November by astronaut Sandra H Magnus, scheduled to fly to the station on Endeavour's STS-126. The mission is due to deliver extra equipment for the ISS's crew expansion.

After that, NASA has eight further shuttle flights to the ISS on its launch roster, before the fleet's final 2010 retirement. In 2009, Discovery (STS-119 delivering final solar arrays to the ISS) is slated to lift off on 12 February. Endeavour will on 15 May carry the final components of Japan's kibo lab (Exposed Facility and Experiment Logistics Module Exposed Section) on mission STS-127, while Atlantis (STS-128) is slated to launch on 30 July bearing science and storage racks for the station.

Discovery will be back in in the air on 15 October, when its mission STS-129 will "focus on staging spare components outside the station". The 2009 schedule wraps on 10 December with Endeavour on STS-130 whisking spacewards the "Cupola" - a "robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the station".

The final three ISS jaunts are scheduled for 11 February 2010 (Atlantis, STS-131), 8 April (Discovery, STS-132) and 31 May (Endeavour, STS-133). They will deliver to the ISS Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, deliver maintenance and assembly hardware and "critical spare components", respectively.

The other planned shuttle launch is that of Atlantis' STS-125 mission to service Hubble, now knocked back to 2009 and "under review". ®

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