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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off carrying three NASA astronauts and one ESA astronaut on a six-month expedition to the International Space Station, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. April 27, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Cape Canaveral: Four astronauts, three from NASA and one from the European Space Agency, arrived ahead of schedule at the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday and docked their SpaceX capsule, just two days after the last crew to depart the orbiting outpost returned to Earth.

Rendezvous of the Crew Dragon capsule with the station less than 16 hours after launch of the astronauts from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, also marked one of the fastest flights by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to the ISS from liftoff to docking, NASA webcast commentators said.

The fully automated docking took place at 7.37pm EDT (3.37am Thursday UAE) while the Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Freedom and the space station were flying 420km above the central Pacific Ocean, according to NASA.

The Freedom crew consists of three American NASA astronauts — flight commander Kjell Lindgren, 49, mission pilot Bob Hines, 47, and mission specialist Jessica Watkins, 33 — as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, 45, of the European Space Agency (ESA).