April 9 (UPI) — A joint U.S.-Russia crew aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket were successfully launched into space early Friday with the final destination the International Space Station.
Liftoff for the Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan occurred as scheduled at 3:42 a.m. EST with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov on board.
The Soyuz MS-18 booster is to dock with the Earth-facing side of the Russian segment of the station at 7:07 a.m. EST following a two-orbit, three-hour flight from launch.
With the arrival of Expedition 65, the station’s population will grow from seven to 10 for a few days.
The three men will be joining the crew of Expedition 64 with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov who have been there since October as well as the four-member crew of SpaceX Dragon Resilience who entered the orbital a month later.
“Hey, Expedition 64 — set the dinner table for 10 tonight,” Vande Hei tweeted shortly before liftoff. “Can’t wait to join you on [the space station] in a few hours!”
Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are scheduled to depart for Earth next week with Shannon Walker of SpaceX to assume command during a ceremony on Thursday, NASA spokesman Dan Huot said.
The journey occurs days before the 60th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in space on April 12, 1961.
To mark the occasion, Expedition 65 has a special mission patch adorning the fairing of their launch vehicle, Huot said.
It is Vande Hei’s second trip to the station.
NASA said Expeditions 64 and 65 will continue with hundreds of biology, biotechnology, physical science experiments aboard “humanity’s only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory.