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SpaceX gives another four astronauts a lift to International Space Station

Two Americans, a Japanese bloke and a Russian float into a lab. The bartender says...

SpaceX has dropped off another four astronauts at the International Space Station, their Dragon capsule successfully docking just now with the orbiting lab.

Since lifting off yesterday atop a Falcon 9 rocket, the manned pod spent time in orbit performing a series of automated maneuvers, monitored from SpaceX's Hawthorne, California mission control center, which put it into alignment with the ISS. The craft docked under its own power, rather than being berthed by the station's robotic arm. 

NASA astronauts Nicole Aunapu Mann (America's first Native American in space) and Josh Cassada have since disembarked for a six-month stay on the international station along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

While on the station, the new intake – dubbed Crew-5 – will conduct more than 200 experiments and tech demonstrations, said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, with subject areas including cardiovascular health, bioprinting, and fluid behavior in microgravity. NASA said the experiments will both benefit life on Earth and "prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit." 

"Missions like Crew-5 are proof we are living through a golden era of commercial space exploration. It's a new era powered by the spirit of partnership, fueled by scientific ingenuity, and inspired by the quest for new discoveries," Nelson said. 

While Mann, Cassada, and Kikina all took to space for their first times yesterday, the launch marked the fifth spaceflight for Wakata, whose trip in a reusable SpaceX Dragon capsule makes him the second Japanese astronaut to join the elite club of astronauts who've flown to space on three different craft. 

Noguchi Soichi, who flew to the ISS as SpaceX's Crew-1, earned the honor in 2020, becoming the first Japanese astronaut, first non-American astronaut, and fourth overall to join the exclusive club.

Wakata wasn't just earning the planet's fifth set of three-different-ship wings, but also set a Japanese record with yesterday's launch by being the first Jaxanaut to embark on his fifth space mission.

Kikina's flight in Dragon is the first time a Russian cosmonaut has flown in a SpaceX craft, while NASA said that mission commander Mann, a colonel in the US Marine Corps and former F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet test pilot, became the first indigenous American woman in space with yesterday's launch. 

Liftoff was preceded by delays caused by damage to the Falcon 9 rocket used in the launch during transportation, necessitating a repair and replacement of some components of the rocket's interstage connector. 

While SpaceX continues to ferry astronauts to space, Boeing is now targeting early 2023 for its first much-delayed crewed flight. ®

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