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SpaceX capsule carrying latest astronaut crew docks with International Space Station

Four astronauts, three from NASA and one from the European Space Agency, arrived 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.

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Rendezvous of the Crew Dragon capsule with the station less than 16 hours after launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, 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 about 7:37 p.m. EDT (2337 GMT) while the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Freedom, and the space station were flying about 260 miles (420 km) 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).

After docking ahead of schedule, crew members began a two-hour process of standard leak checks and pressurizing the passageway between the capsule and the ISS in preparation for opening the station hatch.

The new arrivals were to be welcomed aboard by the seven existing ISS occupants, the four-member team they will be replacing – three Americans and a German ESA crewmate due to end their mission in early May – and three Russian cosmonauts.

The four latest astronauts, designated Crew 4, are the fourth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has launched aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the California-based rocket company began flying US space agency astronauts in 2020.

Rapid flight turnarounds

SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Musk, the billionaire CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Inc who on Monday clinched a deal to buy social media platform Twitter, has now launched seven human spaceflights over the past two years.

That includes a four-man team organized by Houston-based company Axiom Space that splashed down on Monday after a two-week stay aboard the ISS, capping the first all-private astronaut mission to the orbiting laboratory.

The Crew 4’s predawn launch on Wednesday came just 39 hours after the Axiom team safely parachuted into the Atlantic off the Florida coast in a separate Crew Dragon capsule.

The brief interval between Axiom’s splashdown and the Crew 4 launch vividly demonstrated a swift turnaround capability forged by NASA and SpaceX, at least when weather conditions permit, built around a fleet of reusable rockets and crew capsules.

The lower-stage of the Falcon 9 rocket from Crew 4’s launch flew itself back to Earth for a safe return landing just minutes after liftoff on Wednesday, marking the fourth successful flight and recovery of that same SpaceX booster. The Crew Dragon capsule Freedom was making its maiden flight.

Crew 4 was under the command of Lindgren, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and one-time flight surgeon making his second trip to the ISS, where he logged 141 days in orbit and performed two spacewalks in 2015.

ISS firsts

The designated pilot for mission was Hines, a rookie astronaut and U.S Air Force fighter pilot who has accumulated more than 3,500 hours of flight time in 50 types of aircraft and had flown 76 combat missions.

Watkins, a geologist who earned her doctorate studying large landslides on Mars and Earth, was also making her debut spaceflight and was set to become the first African-American woman to join a long-duration mission aboard the ISS.

They were joined by Cristoforetti, an ESA astronaut and Italian Air Force jet pilot making her second flight to the space station and slated to assume command of ISS operations during the team’s six-month stint, becoming Europe’s first woman in that role.

The ISS, the largest artificial object in space, spanning the size of an American football field end to end, has been continuously occupied since November 2000, operated by a US-Russian-led international consortium of five space agencies from 15 countries.

An international crew of at least seven typically lives and works aboard the platform while traveling at 5 miles (8 km) per second, circling Earth once about every 90 minutes.

The station’s microgravity environment provides scientists a unique laboratory to run experiments on everything from fluid mechanics and combustion to cell growth and aging

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Hundreds of stolen cars recovered in global Interpol operation funded by the UAE

A United Arab Emirates-funded global police operation targeting stolen vehicle trafficking has led to the recovery of hundreds of cars, trucks and motorbikes and almost half a million stolen cigarettes in just two weeks, Interpol announced on Wednesday.

Operation Carback saw frontline police at seaports and land border crossings in 77 countries use Interpol’s secure global police communications network – I-24/7 – to check vehicles and their owners against Interpol’s databases and instantaneously detect potential criminals or criminal activity.

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Interpol launched its ‘Reducing Vehicle Crime and Theft’ Program in 2016 with funding from the United Arab Emirates via Interpol’s ‘Foundation for a Safer World’, which financed Operation Carback 2022.

Since May 2016, the foundation has been supporting seven key Interpol initiatives by donating $52 million over a period of five years, as part of a contribution agreement between the Foundation and the UAE government.

In just over two weeks, Operation Carback led to the identification of 1,121 stolen cars and 64 motorcycles, the arrest or detention of 222 suspected stolen vehicle traffickers, the detention of eight suspected people smugglers, the detection of 26 fraudulent vehicle documents and the seizure of 480,000 stolen cigarettes.

Officers raided chop shops – places where stolen vehicles are dismantled into parts that are smuggled or sold online – with confiscations triggering further investigations into car crime gangs globally.

Interpol supported the operation by crosschecking information collected in the field against its international databases, with Frontex also supporting the European leg of frontline operations.

Experts from Interpol’s Stolen Motor Vehicles Unit were deployed to key locations to assist national law enforcement with database checks in the field as well as in exchanging, analyzing and acting on operational data.

With the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) typically removed from stolen cars, on-the-ground assistance from Interpol enabled national law enforcement to connect with car manufacturers to identify vehicle origin.

Because stolen vehicles are frequently trafficked to finance and carry out crime ranging from drug trafficking, arms dealing and people smuggling to corruption and international terrorism, the Interpol General Secretariat headquarters is analyzing intelligence gathered during Operation Carback to identify links with other crime areas.

“With vehicles usually smuggled beyond borders and ending up thousands of miles away from where they were stolen, an international operation like Carback is crucial to enabling police to tackle the networks behind global car trafficking,” said Ilana de Wild, Interpol’s director of organized and emerging Crime.

“The main key to the success of Operation Carback is the wealth of information contained in Interpol’s Stolen Motor Vehicle database, and the fact that throughout the operation police in the field were able to access this crucial data.”

Last year, Interpol identified some 248,000 stolen vehicles thanks to the SMV database. More than 130 countries shared their national data with Interpol, and carried out more than 280 million searches.

The UAE has close links with Interpol and in November it was announced that the country’s Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, of the UAE’s interior ministry, had been elected as the new President of Interpol.

The senior police official will serve the four-year term in Lyon, France.

The new appointment makes him the first candidate from the Middle Eastern region to be elected into the position since the global crime fighting agency was founded in the 1920s.

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‘If Putin was a woman, there would be no Ukraine war’: UK’s Johnson

Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“If Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn't, but if he were, I really don't think he would've embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has,” Johnson told German broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening.

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Putin's invasion of Ukraine is “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”, he said, calling for better education for girls around the world and for “more women in positions of power”.

The British Prime Minister acknowledged that “of course people want the war to end”, but for the moment “there's no deal available. Putin isn't making an offer of peace”.

Western allies must support Ukraine to enable it to be in the best possible strategic position in the event that peace negotiations with Moscow do become possible, he added.

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World

Spain begins natural gas exports to Morocco following diplomatic row

Natural gas has started flowing from Spain toward Morocco through a pipeline that stopped flowing in November amid a diplomatic row between Morocco and Algeria, data from Spanish gas grid operator Enagas showed on Wednesday.
Algeria decided last year not to extend a deal to export gas through a pipeline running through neighboring Morocco to Spain, halting nearly all of Morocco’s gas supply, as relations between Rabat and Algiers worsened.
In April, Algeria warned Madrid not to re-export Algerian gas supplies to its Southern neighbor after Energy Minister Teresa Ribera confirmed plans to reverse the flow of the Maghreb Europe pipeline and begin exportation of natural gas to Morocco.
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“A certification process guarantees that this gas is not of Algerian origin,” a spokesperson for Enagas said on Wednesday.
In March, Spain angered its main gas supplier Algeria by supporting a Moroccan plan to offer autonomy to Western Sahara, prompting Algiers to suspend its 20-year-old friendship treaty with Madrid and causing a diplomatic crisis.
The shift was well received in Rabat as Morocco decided to return its ambassador to Spain after almost a year of absence following a long diplomatic dispute.
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