As the year winds down, three new crew members are set to begin a mission aboard the International Space Station. Early Sunday, an American, a Russian and a Japanese astronaut blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in a Soyuz spacecraft.
They are set to arrive early Tuesday and will settle in for the next four months when they will conduct more than 200 scientific investigations, according to NASA. Among them, research into improving the quality of fiber optics in a microgravity environment. The crew is also conducting drug testing on mice with the goal of maintaining healthy bodies in astronauts and preventing muscular breakdown from continued disuse.
The new crew members are Commander Anton Shkaplerov with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Scott Tingle with NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and they'll be joining three others already at the station, who have been there since September.
Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA are scheduled to return home in February.
Soyuz was safely in orbit about 10 minutes after launch, reports Reuters, and onboard cameras showed the crew giving thumbs up as well as a stuffed dog — the choice of "Shkaplerov's daughter to be the spacecraft's zero-gravity indicator."
The ISS crew should be well-stocked. Shortly after the astronauts blasted off, the SpacX Dragon cargo spacecraft arrived at the station. It was carrying some two-and-a-half tons of "science-heavy" supplies, according to NASA, with equipment to aid the astronauts' research.
The Dragon will remain at the station until next month, when it returns to earth with results of the research.