– A four-member SpaceX Crew Dragon team, including a Russian cosmonaut and the first Native American woman sent to orbit, neared a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday to begin a five-month science mission.
The latest NASA expedition to the orbiting laboratory was due to arrive shortly before 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) following a 29-hour flight to the orbital laboratory as it circled the globe some 250 miles (420 km) above Earth.
The autonomously flying Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Endurance, soared 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 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.
The team was led by Mann, the first Native American 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.
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.