Koichi Wakata arrives at the International Space Station on Thursday with three other astraonauts. (NASA TV via Kyodo)

Rafu Wire Service Reports

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Russian cosmonaut who caught a U.S. lift to the International Space Station arrived at her new home Thursday for a five-month stay, accompanied by a Japanese astronaut and two from NASA, including the first Native American woman in space.

The SpaceX capsule pulled up to the station a day after launching into orbit. The linkup occurred 260 miles (420 kilometers) above the Atlantic, just off the west coast of Africa.

It was the first time in 20 years that a Russian hitched a ride from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the result of a new agreement reached despite friction over the war in Ukraine.

Cosmonaut Anna Kikina joins two Russians already at the orbiting outpost. She’ll live and work on the Russian side until March, before returning to Earth in the same SpaceX capsule.

Riding along with Kikina: Marine Col. Nicole Mann, a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California, Navy Capt. Josh Cassada and Japan’s Koichi Wakata, the only experienced space flier of the bunch with five missions.

As the capsule closed in, the space station residents promised the new arrivals that their bunks were ready and the outside light was on.

“You guys are the best,” replied Mann, the capsule’s commander.

Wakata, who at 59 is the oldest Japanese astronaut, said it had been “a smooth ride, just like in the simulation,” and thanked the international organizations behind the mission. “I cannot wait to start working with our crewmates,” he added.

Wakata previously flew on the U.S. Space Shuttle in 1996, 2000, and 2009, and Russia’s Soyuz in 2013. The latest mission is his third long-term expedition at the ISS.

Following its first manned test flight in May 2020, the Crew Dragon has continued to send astronauts to the ISS. Two other Japanese astronauts — Soichi Noguchi, 57, and Akihiko Hoshide, 53 — have been on board previous flights.

Mann and her crew will replace three Americans and one Italian who will return in their own SpaceX capsule next week after almost half a year up there. Until then, 11 people will share the orbiting lab.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio arrived two weeks ago. He launched on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan, kicking off the cash-free crew swapping between NASA and the Russian Space Agency. They agreed to the plan last summer in order to always have an American and Russian at the station.

Until Elon Musk’s SpaceX started launching astronauts, NASA was forced to spend tens of millions of dollars every time an astronaut flew up via Soyuz.

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