Three new crewmembers were welcomed to the International Space Station following the successful launch of their Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Liftoff at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan came at 6:03 a.m. EST, or 5:03 p.m. in local time, on Dec. 15. The space station was 252 miles above at the time of the launch, which NASA dubbed “flawless.”
Russian space agency Roscosmos has handled the launches for all manned missions in recent years, but the U.S. is gearing up for the resumption of manned missions to the ISS in 2017 or 2018. NASA has awarded contracts for such missions to Boeing and SpaceX.
Those boarding the ISS were astronauts Tim Kopra of NASA and the U.K.’s Tim Peake of the European Space Agency, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos. The new crewmembers are booked for a six-month stay at the ISS.
They were greeted by three crewmembers already aboard the station: Commander Scott Kelly of NASA, and flight engineers Sergey Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos. Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov will return to Earth in March.
The six-member crew will be charged with continuing work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science. Such experiments form the primary mission of the multinational space project.