Cape Canaveral, Florida: For the first time in its history the international space station (ISS) has taken on a full complement of six astronauts with a Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three new space travellers docking at the orbiting complex on Friday.
The fresh arrivals were greeted by three older residents.
In another historic first, each of the major space station partners now has a representative on board. The combined crew now includes two Russians and one American, Japanese, Canadian and Belgian.
The Soyuz spacecraft took off from Kazakhstan on Wednesday and docked with the space station 217 miles above the China coast.
The number of residents is set to shoot up dramatically when space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven arrive sometime in the next few weeks, boosting population levels to a record 13, albeit temporarily.
No more than three people have lived onboard the ISS ever since the first crew arrived in 2000.
With NASA's shuttles due to retire at the end of the next year, the agency will now begin the process of transporting and storing spare parts onboard. NASA has also struck a deal with the Russian Space Agency to transport all its astronauts and stores to the ISS once the shuttles are mothballed.
The contract will cost NASA $51 million per American astronaut per trip.