Alpha crew makes room for guests
(CNN) -- The residents of the international space station flew around their orbiting home in a Soyuz spacecraft on Wednesday, preparing for a flurry of visitors, including a possible space tourist.
The Russian and two Americans moved the Soyuz from one docking port to another on the modular complex. The 20-minute ride freed up the docking port facing Earth, which will be used in two weeks by a Russian crew bringing another Soyuz to space station Alpha.
With cosmonaut Yury Usachev at the controls, astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss flew the Soyuz from Zarya to Zvezda, two Russian modules on opposite sides of Alpha.
As the trio inched closer to the new port, traveling at one-tenth meter per second, a black-and-white video camera on the exterior of the Soyuz recorded their return to Alpha.
The maneuver was performed while the station orbited 240 miles (386 km) above Russia, as ground controllers near Moscow helped direct the Alpha fliers.
To prepare for the Soyuz move, a Progress cargo ship loaded with trash was commanded to undock on Monday from Zvezda and fly into the atmosphere. The unmanned Russian craft burned up as expected during reentry.
Space tourist visit still up in the air
Soyuz spacecraft serve as emergency lifeboats for Alpha. Russia has agreed to supply a fresh one every six months. After the taxi mission, scheduled to launch April 28, two visiting Russian cosmonauts will return in the old ship.
The question of whether an aspiring space tourist will ride in the empty third seat remains unanswered. NASA and other space station partners oppose the trip, saying it poses a potential safety risk.
But Russia, which controls the Soyuz flights, maintains that Dennis Tito, 60, will fly. The California financier paid $20 million for the weeklong excursion and has trained for more than six months with Russian cosmonauts.
NASA has scheduled a Friday teleconference to convince the Russian space agency to cancel or postpone Tito's trip. But similar entreaties have so far failed.
Busy schedule for Alpha
The Alpha residents are preparing to host other guests as well. The space shuttle Endeavour should arrive Saturday with seven visitors.
The shuttle payload includes a Canadian-built giant robotic arm, which will help in construction jobs on the unfinished Alpha, and the second Italian-built cargo module, which will carry supplies and experiments for the station.
The two sets of visitors have little flexibility with their travel plans. The shuttle is scheduled to undock from Alpha on April 28, two days before the Soyuz arrives at the station.
Although Endeavour will use a docking port on the U.S.-built Destiny module, a shuttle and a Soyuz ship cannot be attached to Alpha at the same time for a variety of technical reasons.
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