Today NASA astronaut Jeff Williams will board a spacecraft headed to the International Space Station. He’ll be joined by Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, and together the crew will replace the group that came back to Earth just two weeks ago. That trio included Sergey Volkov, along with year-in-space participants Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko.
You can watch the space travelers leave the planet live from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the trio will cram into a 23-foot Russian Souyez capsule. NASA’s launch coverage will start at 4:30 pm Eastern time, with take-off scheduled an hour later at 5:26 pm. The spacecraft will fly for about six hours before docking at the space station at 11:12 pm.
It’s a big launch for Williams, who will be on board the ISS for nearly six months. At the end of his stay, he’ll hold the record for longest cumulative days an American has spent in space–534 days, if you’re keeping track. That surpasses the record that Scott Kelly just set (blast it, Williams, you had me by 14 days!). This trip also marks 58-year-old Williams’ fourth expedition to space and his third mission to the International Space Station.
While off-planet, the team will facilitate hundreds of research investigations that aim to improve life on Earth. Next week, the crew will greet NASA commercial partner Orbital ATK’s Cygnus resupply craft, which will deliver investigation materials for the dozens of experiments planned over the course of the six-month mission.
The astronauts aren’t wasting any time up there. The crew will study some practical things, like fire scenarios in space and the first space-based observations of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. But they will also look into some less obvious questions, like how soil behaves and moves in microgravity. They’ll also test a gecko-inspired adhesive gripping device that can stick in the harsh environment of space, and an upgraded 3-D printer in microgravity.
Williams, Ovchinin, and Skripochka will be greeted by NASA commander Tim Kopra and two flight engineers, Yuri Malenchenko of Russia’s Roscosmos and Tim Peake of the European Space Agency, who all have been living aboard the ISS since December and will return to earth after a six month expedition in June. After that, Williams will take command of the space station.