On Wednesday, three astronauts aboard a Russian Soyuz MS-08 rocket blasted off toward the International Space Station. Americans Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold rode shotgun as Russian Oleg Artemyev piloted the spacecraft. The launch successfully lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport in Kazakhstan at 1:44 p.m. Eastern.
The trio is scheduled to dock at the ISS on Friday, March 23. The three space travelers are currently floating toward the space station just 254 miles from Earth. They will join cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, and Norishige Kanai from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who are already aboard the orbiting lab. This is another step toward the completion of Expedition 55, which will finally conclude when Shkaplerov, Tingle, and Kanai return to Earth in a voyage slated for June 3.
The Soyuz launch was carried out smoothly, with no complications during takeoff. “Everything is fine on board,” Artemyev reported to mission control. “We’re doing excellent.” During the final stage of the launch, he added, “the crew’s mood is festive.”
Artemyev, Feustel, and Arnold are no strangers to space. The cosmonaut was part of the Expedition 39 and 40 crew back in 2014 and has spent a total of five and a half months aboard the space station. Both astronauts have several stints in space. Feustel was part of the Hubble Space Telescope service mission STS-125 in 2009 and Arnold flew in the ISS service mission STS-119 that same year.
Once aboard the space station, the three newly arrived crew members will begin helping with hundreds of scientific experiments already on board the ISS. Both Feustel and Arnold will also be conducting a spacewalk on March 29 to replace equipment on the exterior of the ISS.
This mission will last roughly five months. The team is scheduled to take the Soyuz MS-08 back to Earth on August 27, after three new space travelers join them in orbit earlier in the summer.