The Soyuz spacecraft closed in on the international space station at dangerously high speed Saturday, forcing the U.S. and Russian crew to put on the brakes, abandon autopilot and manually dock the Soviet-era capsule in a tricky maneuver.
It was a last-minute wrinkle for a crew that had never piloted a Soyuz before. The Soyuz TMA-5, carrying Russians Salizhan Sharipov and Yuri Shargin and American Leroy Chiao, approached the station so quickly that a danger signal was activated, prompting the Russian space center's order for the crew to go manual.
When the ship docked at the station at 12:16 a.m. just more than 49 hours after lifting off from Kazakhstan, cosmonauts and officials at the space center in Korolyov, just outside Moscow, burst into applause.
"Everything went normally, even though we noted a higher speed, close to dangerous, but the crew acted brilliantly," said Vladimir Solovyov, chief of the space center .
NASA deputy administrator Fred Gregory, who observed the docking from Korolyov, said the switch from automatic to manual mode was "seamless."
"It appears that the crew was extremely well-trained," he said.
Yuri Semyonov, head of the Energiya company that manufactures Soyuz spacecraft, said it was not immediately clear what caused the glitch in the automatic docking system and promised to investigate.