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Spacecraft with American, Russian, Malaysian aboard docks at space station

MOSCOW — A Soyuz craft carrying the international space station's first female commander and Malaysia's first space traveler docked Friday at the orbital outpost after a two-day trip from Russia's launch facility in Kazakhstan.

The spacecraft docked on schedule automatic pilot, Russian Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said. It carried the station's new American commander, astronaut Peggy Whitson of Beaconsfield, Iowa, as well as veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor of Malaysian.

"Everything is great," Malenchenko told Mission Control shortly after the docking, which took place about 220 miles over Central Asia. A NASA commentator called it "flawless."

After hatches were opened, the three entered the station, Lyndin said.

Sheikh Muszaphar, 35, has said his roughly 10-day stay on the station should inspire his southeast Asian nation, and Muslims all over the world.

He will perform experiments involving diseases and the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and genes.

The $25 million agreement for a Malaysian astronaut to fly to space was negotiated in 2003 along with a $900 million deal for Malaysia to buy 18 Russian fighter jets.

At the moment the Soyuz-FG rocket blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, "Malaysia became a member of the space community," a Malaysian representative at Mission Control said.

Whitson, 47, is making her second trip to the station and will become its first female commander.

She and Malenchenko will replace two of the station's current crew, cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, who are slated to return to Earth along with Sheikh Muszaphar on Oct. 21 in a Soyuz capsule.

Whitson and Malenchenko, 45, who is on his second voyage to the station and who commanded Russia's Mir space station more than a decade ago, are to be joined later this month by U.S. astronaut Daniel Tani, who is scheduled to arrive on the space shuttle Discovery. Tani will replace fellow American Clayton Anderson, who has been at the station since June.

Anderson, a fan of the University of Nebraska football team, tossed a football in zero gravity before the new crew came aboard NASA video showed.

After Tani's arrival, the station's crew — known as Expedition 16 — will be busy with crucial jobs preparing for expansion of the station, which is set to add European and Japanese modules in the coming months.

Discovery will bring up a connecting mode called Harmony, and the station's crew will perform spacewalks to put it in place for a December shuttle docking and the arrival of the European module, Columbus, NASA's space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier told a news conference at Mission Control.