Los Angeles: A four-member SpaceX Crew Dragon team, including a Russian cosmonaut and the first Native American woman sent to orbit, safely docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday to begin a five-month science mission.
Rendezvous of the latest NASA expedition to the orbiting laboratory came just after 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) following a 29-hour flight to the ISS as the two vehicles circled the globe some 250 miles (420 km) above Earth off the west coast of Africa, according to a live NASA webcast of the docking.
The autonomously flying Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Endurance, was lofted into orbit on Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The crew consists of two American NASA astronauts – flight commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, and pilot Josh Cassada, 49 – as well as Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, 59, a veteran of four previous spaceflights, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina, 38, the first Russian aboard an American spacecraft in 20 years.
The inclusion of Kikina, the lone female cosmonaut in active service with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was a sign of continuing U.S.-Russian cooperation in space despite escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine.
Kikina joined the SpaceX Crew-5 flight under a new ride-sharing agreement signed in July between NASA and Roscosmos allowing the two countries to continue flying on each other’s spacecraft to and from ISS.
The team was led by Mann, the first indigenous woman NASA has sent to space and the first woman to take the commander’s seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Mann, a U.S. Marine Corps colonel and combat fighter pilot, is also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions aimed at returning humans to the moon later this decade.
“We look forward to getting to work,” Mann said over the open radio channel with mission control and the current ISS crew moments after the linkup was completed.
Wakata radioed thanks to the flight control team for the “smooth ride” to the space station.
The mission marks the fifth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX capsule since the private rocket venture founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk began sending U.S. astronauts to space in May 2020.
On arrival, the crew prepared to conduct a series of standard leak checks and to pressurize the passageway between the capsule and the ISS before they can open the hatch to the space station.
Crew-5 will be welcomed by seven existing ISS occupants – the Crew-4 team consisting of three Americans and an Italian astronaut – as well as two Russians and a NASA astronaut who flew with them to orbit on a Soyuz flight last month.
The Crew-4 astronauts will likely fly home from the space station sometime next week.
The new arrivals are set to conduct more than 200 experiments during their 150-day mission, many focused on medical research ranging from 3-D “bio-printing” of human tissue to a study of bacteria cultured in microgravity.
ISS, spanning the length of a football field, has been continuously occupied since 2000, operated by a U.S.-Russian-led partnership that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.