Three astronauts are preparing to blast off later today for a speedy six-hour trip to the International Space Station, where they will join another three astronauts already living and working there. With today's additions, the six-person crew of Expedition 36 will be fully in place.
One NASA astronaut, Karen Nyberg, will join Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano on the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft,. It is set to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:31 p.m. ET today.
Today's mission is set to be the second accelerated trip to the space station. The first one in March involved one NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.
An airplane-shaped weather vane is seen in the foreground of an image of the Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad in Kazakhstan. (Image: NASA)
Historically, it has taken NASA's space shuttle fleet, as well as Russian Soyuz spacecraft, two days after launch to rendezvous with the space station. The faster journey uses new rendezvous techniques that have been tested out with three recent unpiloted Russian cargo spacecrafts, according to NASA.
The March trip to the orbiter was the first time it only took four Earth orbits for a spacecraft and crew to reach their destination.
The same is expected today.
Astronauts are scheduled to dock their Soyuz spacecraft to the space station at 10:16 p.m. ET. The hatches between the two vessels then are expected to open at 11:55 p.m.
Live NASA TV coverage of the launch will begin at 3:30 p.m.
The new crew members will join Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA and Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin of the Russian space agency.
NASA's Nyberg, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, will be making her second mission to space today.
Earlier today, she tweeted: "Time for to "unplug"! Thanks everyone for well wishes & great interest in what our nations do in space. Will be talking to you from LEO!"
A long-distance runner, Nyberg has completed nine marathons, including the 2007 Boston Marathon. Using her scheduled two-hours of exercise every day on the space station, Nyberg will run on a specially designed treadmill that uses a harness to hold her in place.
"I am told it takes a little getting used to," Nyberg said in a statement.