Three astronauts are finalizing their preparations to go to space later today. One can hardly comprehend the mixture of excitement and nerves that comes alongside shooting off into space for an extended period of time.
The launch will begin later today at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. The launch of the Soyuz spacecraft is currently scheduled for 5:02 p.m. EDT.
The crew includes Commander Oleg Kononenko from Roscosmos (RSA) and two flight engineers: Kjell Lindgren from NASA and Kimiya Yui from JAXA. They will be joining the three astronauts currently floating inside the ISS: Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko, both from RSA, and Scott Kelly from NASA. Together, they make up the crew of the 44th Expedition. When they arrive, the ISS will be at full capacity: six people.
Together, they'll maintain the ISS and continue the large number of experiments that are going on.
Kononenko's trip will be a familiar experience since he has already flown to the ISS. However, this will be the first spaceflight for Lindgren and Yui. To commemorate their first spaceflight, as is cosmonaut tradition, they each planted a tree on Cosmonaut Avenue.
The Soyuz rocket prepping for launch. NASA/Roscosmos
The few days leading up to the launch haven't just been a walk in the park, though. The crew has received an overview of the cargo on board, and have been prepped on procedures during an unlikely launch abort.
Earlier this year, the crew practiced a series of operations in a flight simulator. This included docking with the ISS all the way to returning to Earth. Each member of the crew took, and passed, exams qualifying them to maneuver the Soyuz spacecraft.
The Soyus-FG spacecraft that will take the astronauts out of the atmosphere is a whopping 49.5 meters (162 feet) tall. It has already been set up for launch.
“Hard to fully comprehend the power this thing will produce to get us into orbit,” Lindgren said, referencing the rocket.
Expedition 44 crew members Kjell Lindgren, Oleg Kononenko and Kimiya Yui announce their mission readiness at the State Commission at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan/NASA
You can watch the launch live (and plenty of footage before then) on NASA Television. If you miss the launch, then fear not – you still have time to watch the live docking onto the ISS later tonight.
We wish the astronauts the best of luck for their launch and upcoming stay aboard the ISS!