CAPE CANAVERAL - A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut reached the International Space Station on Saturday, setting the stage for a pair of final shuttle missions to complete construction of the orbital outpost.
The newly upgraded Soyuz slipped into a docking port aboard the station at 8.01pm EDT (7.01am Sunday Singapore time), two days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Aboard the Soyuz were veteran cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, rookie Oleg Skripochka and NASA's Scott Kelly, a two-time shuttle flier. They join Americans Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who arrived at the station in June, returning the outpost - a $100 billion (S$130.5 billion) project of 16 nations - back to full staff.
The new crew members will remain on the station for six months, during which time NASA plans two shuttle missions to deliver spare parts, a storage pod and the $2 billion, multinational Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector.
Those flights, scheduled for November and February, will complete U.S. assembly of the station, which has been under construction 220 miles (354 km) above the planet since 1998.
Kelly's identical twin brother Mark Kelly, also a NASA astronaut, is the commander of the February mission.
If schedules hold, it would be the first time blood relatives are together in space. A husband and wife flew on a 1992 shuttle mission. They married after training began.
"It's exciting," Scott Kelly said in a prelaunch interview."I've obviously known my brother a really long time, and we're great friends, and it's a real privilege to share the experience with someone you're so close to."
The shuttle program is ending after 30 years of flights due to high operating costs of about $3 billion a year. The United States does not have a replacement vehicle.
In preparation for the shuttles' retirement, NASA has turned over station crew ferry flights to Russia, at a cost of $51 million per person.
The NASA spending plan for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 includes seed funds for private sector development of space taxis. Under the plan, the government would oversee development of a new launching system for travel to destinations beyond the station's orbit such as asteroids, the moon and Mars.
An additional shuttle mission to deliver cargo to the station next summer also been approved by Congress, but not funded.