The Soyuz MS-08 rocket that launched earlier today.
Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Earlier today, a Soyuz MS-08 rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying with it two NASA astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut bound for the International Space Station. Here’s what they’ll be up to for the next five months.

The rocket launched at 1:44 pm ET today, or 11:44 pm Baikonur time, successfully delivering its precious cargo, NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev of Russia’s Roscosmos, to low-Earth orbit. The craft is expected to reach the space station’s Rassvet module this coming Friday March 23 at about 3:41 pm ET.

Seconds before the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
Photo: Sergey Savostianov/TASS

The three astronauts will join NASA’s Scott Tingle, Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, raising the crew back to six members. These guys are going to be busy over the next five months, performing no less than 250 different experiments and projects.

A new testing facility, called the primary Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) platform, will allow the crew to “test materials, coatings, and components or other larger experiments in the harsh environment of space, which is virtually impossible to do collectively on Earth,” according to NASA. The astronauts will also be guinea pigs for research into the effects of extreme low gravity on bone marrow, and blood produced in bone marrow. They’re also going to test a new system for delivering nutrients and sufficient lighting to plants—the Vegetable Production System, or Veggie—that will hopefully allow astronauts to grow salad-like crops in space.

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On August 8, Artemyev and Sergei Prokopyev, who is scheduled to join the crew in June, will perform a spacewalk to install equipment on the outer surface of the ISS for the ICARUS project, which will monitor the migrations of wild animals, including birds, from space. During the spacewalk, the cosmonauts will also deploy some nano-satellites.

Today’s launch included an official 2018 FIFA World Cup Ball, which will return to Earth to be used in the first match of the championship in Russia, scheduled for June 14, 2018.

Shkaplerov, Tingle, and Kanai will leave the ISS in June 2018, and Feustel, Arnold, and Artemyev will leave in August.

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[NASA]