Three astronauts successfully blasted off to the International Space Station on Friday aboard a Russian Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft from the Bakinour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch, which took place at 11:41 a.m. Eastern time (9:41 p.m. local time), marks the beginning of the Expedition 52/53 crew’s four-month stay aboard the $1 billion space station orbiting Earth, before they come home in December.
Friday’s new crew includes NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik (on his second spaceflight), Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy (his second flight as well), and Italian ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli (the senior member, going on this third flight). The trio will spend about six hours in flight before the Soyuz vehicle docks with the ISS.
Once the new crew disembarks and gets acclimated to the station, the soon-to-be crew of six will be working on hundreds of different scientific studies spanning research into human biology, biotechnology applications, physics experiments, and Earth science. Bresnik and his colleagues will get a special treat on August 21 when they witness that day’s hotly-anticipated total solar eclipse from space itself, a rare spectacle which will also provide a great opportunity for a lot of unique science to take place.
The addition of the three arrivals will mean there are two cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, and one other member from a partnering space agency inhabiting the space station. While Russia has typically kept three astronauts aboard the space station, the country recently decided to downsize its participation and reduce the number of crew members it’s keeping aboard the ISS, presumably as a cost-cutting measure while it works to finish building a new ISS module called the Multipurpose Laboratory Module. The U.S. has filled the void by providing an additional crew member for the time being.