Three new crewmembers including NASA astronnaut Jeff Williams will launch toward the International Space Station this evening.
Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka are scheduled to blast off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 5:26 p.m. from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. You can watch the liftoff live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV; coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.
If all goes according to plan, the trio's Soyuz spacecraft will reach the orbiting lab at 11:12 p.m. EDT tonight (0312 GMT on Saturday, March 19), less than six 6 hours after leaving Earth. The hatches between the newly docked Soyuz and the space station are scheduled to open at 12:55 a.m. EDT Saturday (0455 GMT), NASA officials said.
When they float through the hatch and into the ISS, the newcomers will bring the orbiting lab back up to its full complement of six crewmembers. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Briton Tim Peake and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko have had the space station to themselves since March 1, when fellow space fliyers Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov departed for Earth.
Kelly and Kornienko spent an unprecedented 340 straight days aboard the ISS, completing a mission designed to help lay the foundation for crewed journeys to faraway Mars.
During the 11-month mission, Kelly set an American record for the most total days spent in space — 520. But veteran space fliyer Williams will break that record on his upcoming ISS mission; when he lands about six months from now, Williams will have racked up 534 days of spaceflight experience, NASA officials said.
Williams is also embarking upon his third ISS mission, which is another American record.
Williams, Ovchinin and Skripochka will soon be joined in orbit by a robotic visitor — the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, which is built by American company Orbital ATK. Cygnus is scheduled to launch on a resupply mission Tuesday night (March 22) and arrive at the space station four days later.