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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fresh Crew Sent Up to International Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The seven American and Russian crew members aboard the space shuttle Discovery sent their first full day in orbit Saturday preparing to dock at the international space station and getting a quick start on some scientific research.

The docking was scheduled for 10:38 p.m. Moscow time Sunday as the two spacecraft fly some 370 kilometers above the planet at 8 kilometers per second.

Astronaut Frank Culbertson started on some research he and Russian crewmates Yury Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin will continue during the four to six months they will spend on the space station after Discovery departs.

The Expedition Three crew, as they are known, will be part researchers and part guinea pigs for studies of the long-term effects of space flight and weightlessness on the human body.

Culbertson, 52, a one-time shuttle commander who is returning to space after eight years as a senior manager of the space-station program, will be the station's new commander. The current station crew will return on Discovery as it completes its 12-day mission.

In Culbertson's honor, Mission Control played "Back in the Saddle Again," sung by cowboy crooner Gene Autry, to wake up the crew Saturday morning.

"Now I've got to translate 'Whoopee ki yi yay' for the Russians," Culbertson quipped.

The Expedition Three crew will focus more on science than have past crews, which oversaw construction of the station.

While NASA is threatening to cut its budget for the ISS, Russia last week offered a cheap substitute for U.S. components to try to prevent a downsizing of the 16-nation project.

Russia, whose own money problems have repeatedly held up work on the international station, has proposed using a backup of the station's Zarya cargo module, an additional Soyuz escape capsule and other parts to expand the station to a planned crew capacity of six instead of the current three by 2004, Yury Koptev, the director of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, said at a news conference in Moscow on Thursday.

With space station budget overruns topping $4 billion in the next five years, NASA is being forced to scale back on research and commercialization to meet U.S. President George W. Bush's budget. The planned cuts would also eliminate a U.S.-funded lifeboat for the space station and living quarters that would accommodate seven people.

Koptev said the proposed Russian components would be 2 to 2 1/2 times cheaper than the U.S.-designed ones. He said participants in the project will meet in October to discuss the Russian proposals.

Also, Koptev said that tension with NASA over Russia's decision to take California businessman Denis Tito for an eight-day trip to the station in April has eased.

He said participants in the project would sign a document in October that would avoid any future friction over space tourists. Russia expects to send at least two more space tourists to the station next year, including Mark Shuttleworth, a South African Internet tycoon who has already started preparing for the flight at the Star City cosmonauts training center outside Moscow.

Koptev said Shuttleworth could fly to the station as early as April.

(Reuters, AP)