Ahead of their five-month mission, the SpaceX crew welcomes a Russian astronaut to the International Space Station.

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The first Native American woman to be launched into orbit and a Russian cosmonaut were both part of a four-person SpaceX Crew Dragon team that successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday to begin a five-month science mission.

According to a NASA livestream of the docking, the newest NASA expedition to the orbiting laboratory landed just after 5 EDT (2:30am IST) after a 29-hour journey to the ISS as the two vehicles circled the planet at a height of 420 km above Earth off the west coast of Africa.

On Wednesday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, sent the Crew Dragon capsule Endurance into orbit.

The crew consists of two NASA astronauts from the United States — flight commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, and pilot Josh Cassada, 49 — as well as cosmonaut Anna Kikina, 38, who is the first Russian to travel on an American spacecraft in 20 years and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, 59, a veteran of four previous space missions.

Despite growing tensions between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine, the inclusion of Kikina, the only female cosmonaut now serving in an active capacity for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was an indication of ongoing US-Russian cooperation in space.

Under a new ride-sharing agreement struck in July between NASA and Roscosmos, which permits the two countries to continue flying on each other's spacecraft to and from ISS, Kikina boarded the SpaceX Crew-5 mission.

Mann, the first native American woman NASA has sent to orbit and the first woman to occupy the commander's seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon, led the team. Mann, a colonel in the US Marine Corps and combat fighter pilot, was also chosen to be among the first 18 astronauts for NASA's forthcoming Artemis missions, which will attempt to send people back to the moon later this decade.

Moments after the linkup was complete, Mann radioed, "We look forward to getting to work.

Before opening the entrance gates, the Endurance crew spent almost two hours performing a series of routine tasks, including leak inspections and pressurizing the space between the capsule and the ISS.

A live NASA broadcast showed the happy newcomers floating headfirst through the padded corridor into the station one at a time.

The four-person team they are replacing, which consists of three Americans and the Italian station commander, Samantha Cristoforetti, as well as two Russians and a fourth NASA astronaut who traveled to the ISS with them on a Soyuz voyage last month, greeted them with embraces and handshakes.

"Many individuals are working very hard to ensure that our common manned space exploration will endure and advance. We are a living example of this "During a brief welcome ceremony, Kikina made words in Russian that were translated into English by a mission control interpreter.

Since SpaceX, the for-profit rocket company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, started carrying US astronauts to space in May 2020, the Endurance crew has been the fifth full-fledged ISS team NASA has flown on a SpaceX capsule.

In total, SpaceX has launched eight crewed missions, including flights for agencies other than NASA.

Over 200 experiments will be carried out by the newcomers throughout their 150-day mission, many of them are geared toward medical research. These experiments range from the 3-D "bio-printing" of human tissue to a study of microorganisms cultured in microgravity.

Since 2000, the ISS, which is the size of a football field, has been constantly manned by a US-Russian cooperation that also includes Canada, Japan, and 11 European nations.


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