• KYODO, AP

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The commercially developed SpaceX Crew Dragon ship carrying a group of astronauts, including Japan's Soichi Noguchi, successfully docked with the International Space Station on Monday following its liftoff from NASA's space center a day earlier.

Three NASA astronauts — Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker — and Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, made up the crew that will begin a six-month mission at the orbiting laboratory.

"Oh, what a good voice to hear,” space station astronaut Kate Rubins called out when the Dragon's commander, Hopkins, first made radio contact. The linkup occurred 422 kilometers above the U.S. state of Idaho.

The second manned flight to the ISS by the Crew Dragon capsule, developed by the U.S. company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., followed a test flight earlier this year with two NASA astronauts.

Noguchi, 55, became the first non-American astronaut to be ferried by NASA's first-ever certified commercial human spacecraft system.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi waves as the crew of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departs to the launchpad for the first operational NASA commercial crew mission at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday. | REUTERS
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi waves as the crew of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departs to the launchpad for the first operational NASA commercial crew mission at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday. | REUTERS

He is a veteran astronaut with experience from two previous space missions, having been aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2005 and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 161-day stay on the ISS between 2009 and 2010.

During his present stay on the ISS through April, Noguchi is expected to carry out experiments involving iPS cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells, which can be converted into any type of cell in the body, according to JAXA.

The SpaceX system is expected to serve as a successor to NASA's Space Shuttle program that was in service for 30 years through 2011, its development ending the subsequent years of reliance on the Russian Soyuz vehicle as the sole means of accessing the ISS.

Seats in the Soyuz have cost NASA around $80 million or more each in recent years, according to a 2019 report by the U.S. space agency's Office of Inspector General. NASA hopes to reduce crew transportation costs through commercial systems developed in the United States.

The latest development is welcome news for Japan, which also has had to rely on the Soyuz vehicle to send its astronauts to the ISS.

NASA officials have highlighted the importance of sending more astronauts to the ISS, which increases the capacity for scientific research in space.

The arrival of the four astronauts raises the total number of crew members aboard the ISS to seven. Permanent human occupancy of the station began in November 2000.

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