A Russian-built Soyuz TMA-07M carrying a Russian, an American and a Canadian docked with the International Space Station Friday (December 21).
The Soyuz's crew of Canadian Chris Hadfield, U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko were all smiles as the hatch between their vessel and ISS opened and they floated in one by one.
They were greeted by the ISS crew, U.S. astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin, who have been manning the $100-billion, 15-nation research complex since October.
Shortly after the docking, the six-man crew are scheduled to celebrate several winter holidays in orbit; Christmas, the New Year and then Orthodox Christmas.
But the holidays will be followed by hard work, which for the incoming crew will include the unloading of several cargo ships due to arrive at the ISS, two space walks and about 150 scientific experiments.
Russia's space program has suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in recent months, mostly involving unmanned missions such as satellite launches.
Since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet last year, the United States has relied on Russia's single-use Soyuz spacecraft, a version of the Vostok spaceship which took the world's first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961.
NASA, which reportedly pays Russia $60 million for each astronaut taken to the ISS, is working with private companies to develop craft it hopes will be able to do the job by 2017.