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SPACE TOURISM

American Richard Garriott and new crew dock with space station

3 min

Video Game developer Richard Garriott, the world's sixth space tourist, and son of U.S. astronaut Owen Garriott, successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

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A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying US millionaire video game guru Richard Garriott, the world's sixth space tourist, successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday.

"The docking took place at 12:32 Moscow time (0832 GMT) and they entered about an hour later," a spokeswoman for the space control centre in the town of Korolyov told AFP, adding that Garriott and his crewmates "feel very well."

Television footage showed six crewmen in blue suits -- three fresh off the Soyuz and three who had already been on the ISS -- smiling and waving aboard the station. The astronauts were also shown floating in zero gravity.

Tuesday's rendezvous in space was unusual for its family connections.

Garriott is the son of former US astronaut Owen Garriott, who in 1973 spent two months aboard Skylab, the first orbiting space station.

On the ISS, he met a member of the world's other space dynasty: Sergei Volkov, the son of former Soviet cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, who was shown joking with Owen Garriott at a televised press conference after the docking.

"When I woke up this morning, I thought, 'Why don't I fly into space today?' I did my exercises and felt well, so why not?" Alexander Volkov said.

"If we could go together, that would be a good idea," Owen Garriott replied.

Apart from Richard Garriott, who is paying 30 million dollars (22 million euros) for his 10-day space journey, the capsule also took Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov and US astronaut Michael Fincke to the ISS.

The 47-year-old US space tourist, who has called his journey into orbit a lifelong dream, created the Ultima series of computer role-playing games in the 1980s and later earned millions of dollars as a video-game entrepreneur.

He is due to fly back on October 24, along with Sergei Volkov and another Russian cosmonaut, Oleg Kononenko, in a descent that will be closely watched for signs of a glitch that has bedevilled recent landings of the Soyuz capsule.

In a landing on April 19, the capsule entered the atmosphere at an unusually steep angle, subjecting astronauts to uncomfortably strong G forces and landing 420 kilometres (260 miles) from its target.

Coming after a similar incident in October 2007, the so-called "ballistic" descent raised questions about the safety of the Soyuz, a workhorse spacecraft that has carried out more than 1,600 flights.

Russian space officials blamed the problem on a faulty explosive bolt used to separate the Soyuz from the ISS, and two cosmonauts went on a spacewalk in July to fix the problem.

But the chief of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in August that the Soyuz glitch was still a mystery.

NASA will be totally reliant on the Soyuz for transporting astronauts and cargo to the ISS after its space shuttle fleet retires in 2010 and until the shuttle's successor vehicle is ready, expected in 2015 at the earliest.

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