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Soyuz launch
Photographers line up to take pictures of Russia’s Soyuz rocket as it rises from its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)

Three spacefliers from three countries – the United States, Russia and Japan – began a longer-than-usual flight to the International Space Station tonight in the first of a new breed of Russian Soyuz spaceships.

The Soyuz MS-01 mission lifted off at 6:36 p.m. PT from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Japan’s Takuya Onishi. NASA TV aired live launch coverage.

“We are feeling fine and everything is good onboard,” Ivanishin reported minutes after launch. The crew members exchanged fist bumps after reaching orbit.

This version of the Soyuz capsule is expected to be the last major upgrade of Russia’s space workhorse, a buglike craft that Russia plans to replace with its next-generation Federatsiya (Federation) spaceship sometime in the next decade.

NASASpaceFlight.com reports that the Soyuz MS series has more efficient solar panels, streamlined computer and guidance systems and extra shielding against space debris. This mission was originally scheduled to launch last month, but an issue with the docking software forced a delay.

For the past few years, Soyuz crews have typically taken an “express” trip that gets them to the space station in just six hours or so. But because this is the first flight for the upgraded Soyuz MS, the trip is scheduled to take two days. That will give the crew more time to test out all the new systems before Friday night’s scheduled rendezvous.

The Soyuz spacefliers will join NASA’s Jeff Williams and Russia’s Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin aboard the station, filling out the orbital outpost’s crew to its maximum complement of six. This will be the first spaceflight for Rubins and Onishi, and the second for Ivanishin.

Before joining NASA, Rubins was a molecular biologist specializing in infectious diseases. She’s likely to become the first scientist to sequence DNA in space, using a MinION device that’s due to be delivered later this month.

Onishi is a former Boeing 767 pilot, and Ivanishin is a Russian Air Force veteran.

The three arriving crew members are scheduled to spend four months on the station, contributing to more than 250 science experiments. To keep track of Rubins, follow @Astro_Kate7 on Twitter.

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