Following two days in space, a new trio of astronauts — which includes NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet — arrived at the space station, bringing the ISS crew back up to full staff.
Their Soyuz spacecraft docked with the orbital outpost at 4:58 p.m. Eastern. Two and a half hours later, the hatch opened and the trio floated Superman-style into their home for the next six months: the International Space Station. They joined the three-man crew of Shane Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who launched in October.
Their mission, Expedition 50, marks the 50th mission to the space station in its sixteen-year history. Veteran cosmonaut, Novitsky, commanded the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft during the planned two-day stay on orbit prior to docking with the space station. During that time, the crew tested out various systems on the upgraded spacecraft. Once the new systems check out, future flights could resume the standard four-orbit rendezvous profiles, which would mean the crew would arrive at the station within six hours rather than two days later.
This marks the first flight for newbie Pesquet, who is only the 10th French astronaut. He is joined by NASA’s barrier-breaking, veteran space flier Peggy Whitson. In 2007, Whitson became the first woman to ever assume command of the orbital outpost, and this trip she will make history again when Kimbrough hands over command of the station to her next year. Then, in April, she will surpass Jeff Williams, earning the title of NASA’s longest space flier. In total, Williams has logged 534 days in space.
Whitson has also earned another title: NASA’s oldest woman in space — a record that was previously held by Barbara Morgan (who was 55 during her mission). At the start of Expedition 50 — which is Peggy’s third trip to the space station — she will be 56 years old, before celebrating her 57th birthday on orbit. However, John Glenn still holds the record for being the oldest human to fly in space at 77 years old.
The new crew members docked with the space station exactly eighteen years after the first module launched, and will spend the rest of 2016 performing various research experiments before they kick off 2017 with a series of spacewalks.