This afternoon, three astronauts will launch to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket, bringing the total number of crew aboard the ISS back to six. The new arrivals are an international group, including NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency. And a couple of them will be breaking a few records during their six-month stay in orbit.
First off, Pesquet is going to space for the first time, becoming just the 10th person from France to leave Earth’s gravity. His mission is being called Proxima, an allusion to the closest star to the Sun. While Pesquet is a newcomer to zero-gravity, Whitson will be enjoying her third mission to lower Earth orbit since 2002. She’ll be the first woman to assume command of the ISS for a second time, after becoming the first female ever to have the job in 2007. And at 56, Whitson will be the oldest woman to fly in space, beating the last record holder, Barbara Morgan, who was 55 when she flew on the Space Shuttle in 2007. Whitson is set to celebrate her 57th birthday aboard the station, too.
The launch is scheduled for 3:20PM ET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this afternoon. Once in orbit, the crew will remain in the Soyuz for two days before docking with the ISS at 5PM ET on Saturday. The Soyuz and ISS hatches will open about two and a half hours later at 7:35PM ET and the new astronauts will officially come on board, joining the three-person crew already living on the station
Check back here at 2:30PM ET, when NASA’s coverage of the launch begins.