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A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending three spacefliers to the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

Three more spacefliers arrived at the International Space Station today in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, increasing the orbital outpost’s population from its usual six to a crowded nine.

One of the new arrivals is Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first citizen of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space.

The 35-year-old fighter jet pilot was sent to the final frontier under the terms of a contract with the Russian Space Agency, and will be returning to Earth on a different Soyuz in just eight days. The cost to the UAE hasn’t been reported, but for what it’s worth, NASA has been paying the Russians more than $80 million for a ride.

The other two spacefliers are NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, another first-time flier, and veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka.

Their Soyuz craft docked with the station just six hours after today’s launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The trio joined current crew members Christina Koch, Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan of NASA; Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency; and Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov.

Hugs and handshakes were exchanged as the new crew members floated through the hatch from the Soyuz to the space station.

It’s unusual but not unprecedented to have so many people on the space station at once. The last time there were nine on the crew was in 2015, in connection with astronaut Scott Kelly’s “Year in Space” mission. The record high is 13 spacefliers, achieved several times during space shuttle dockings in the 2009-2011 time frame.

There’ll be some complicated choreography ahead for comings and goings in orbit: Almansoori will be leaving the station with Hague and Ovchinin on Oct. 3. Skvortsov, Parmitano and Koch will head back next February. The homecoming for Skripochka, Meir and Morgan will take place in April.

The scheduling means Koch will spend 328 days in orbit, setting a women’s record for consecutive time in space. Morgan will also have an extended stay in space, stretching beyond 250 days. The usual tour of duty lasts four to six months.

The first big task for the new space station expedition, known as Expedition 61, is to bring a robotic Japanese cargo craft in for its hookup on Saturday.

Later in the expedition, spacewalkers will install new lithium-ion batteries for two of the station’s solar array power channels, and perform repairs and upgrades on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle detector that’s designed to look for antimatter and signs of dark matter.

Nine crew members face the camera on the space station during a video conference. (NASA via YouTube)
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