By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS) early on Friday, carrying two U.S. astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and a United Arab Emirates astronaut to begin a six-month science mission.
The autonomously flying spacecraft dubbed Endeavour docked to the space station shortly after 1:40 a.m. EST (0640 GMT) on Friday, nearly 25 hours after launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The coupling was confirmed as the ISS and capsule flew in tandem at 17,500 miles per hour (28,164 kph) some 250 miles (240 km) above Earth across the coast of East Africa, according to a live NASA webcast of the rendezvous.
The four-member team was assigned to conduct more than 200 experiments and technology demonstrations aboard the space station, ranging from research on human cell growth in space to controlling combustible materials in microgravity.
Some of the research will help pave the way for future long-duration human expeditions to the Moon and beyond under NASA’s Artemis program, its successor to Apollo, the U.S. space agency said.
The ISS crew also is responsible for performing maintenance and repairs aboard the station, and to prepare for the arrival and departure of other astronauts and cargo payloads.
Designated Crew 6, the mission marks the sixth long-duration ISS team that SpaceX has flown for NASA since the private rocket venture founded by billionaire Elon Musk began sending American astronauts to orbit in May 2020. Musk is CEO of electric car maker Tesla and social media platform Twitter.
The latest crew was led by Stephen Bowen, 59, a onetime U.S. Navy submarine officer who has logged more than 40 days in orbit as a veteran of three Space Shuttle flights and seven spacewalks. Fellow NASA astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 37, an electrical engineer, computer science expert and commercial aviator designated, was making his first spaceflight.
The Crew 6 mission also was notable for its inclusion of UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, 41, the second person from his country to fly to space and the first to launch from U.S. soil as part of a long-duration space station team.
Rounding out the four-man Crew 6 was Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, 42, who like Alneyadi is an engineer and spaceflight rookie designated as a mission specialist for the team.
Fedyaev is the second cosmonaut to fly aboard an American spacecraft under a renewed ride-sharing deal signed in July by NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, despite heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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 interior of the space station.
The Crew 6 team will be welcomed aboard the space station by seven current ISS occupants – three NASA crew members, including commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman to fly to space, along with three Russians and a Japanese astronaut.
Those seven are expected to end their mission and depart the space station this month. Four will return in the SpaceX Dragon they rode to orbit in October, and three others will ride home in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft flown empty to the ISS last week to replace one that sprang a coolant leak while docked to the station in December.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)