Update: The launch went off without a hitch, and all three crew members safely arrived at the International Space Station at 9:48 p.m. EST Sunday evening. Now they can get started on the hundreds of scientific experiments they’ll be working on over the next few months, such as observing the genetic makeup of roundworms and levitating cooling liquid metals. (Hopefully we get some sweet videos from that one.)
At the crack of dawn on Friday, the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft was transported via specialized train car to its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Russian rocket is scheduled for liftoff this afternoon and will be carrying an eclectic mix of astronauts to the International Space Station. The team includes three crew members from across the globe: commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, flight engineer Terry Virts of NASA, and Italian flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.
The launch, set for 4:01 p.m. EST today, marks the second phase of Expedition 42, which includes six astronauts in total. Shkaplerov, Virts, and Cristoforetti will be joining their other three crew members, who already journeyed to the ISS in late September. Once aboard, the team will remain on the station for five and a half months, conducting experiments and getting everything ready for the arrival of the new commercial crew transport vehicles being built by SpaceX and Boeing.
Despite the serious work that needs to be done, the astronauts have found a way to inject a little humor into their mission. As a nod to their expedition’s number 42, the crew made a poster mimicking the one released for the 2005 film Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Perhaps on their journey, they’ll find the real answer to life, the Universe, and everything?