Update for 2:40 pm ET: The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the new U.S.-Russian crew for the International Space Station successfully launched into orbit today. Read our full story: Soyuz Rocket Launches US-Russian Crew to Space Station
Three veteran space fliers lift off today (March 21) on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, beginning a 50-hour journey to the International Space Station.
The launch is set for 1:44 p.m. EDT (1744 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. You can watch the launch online here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of NASA TV.
NASA flight engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are heading to the space station with Soyuz commander Oleg Artemyev. Feustel has two space shuttle flights under his belt, including STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, in 2009. Arnold has flown on one previous shuttle mission, and Artemyev has flown on one long-duration mission to the space station. [In Photos: Space Station's Expedition 55 Crew in Orbit]
After spending more than two days maneuvering up to the space station's orbit, the three new crewmembers will dock with the station at 3:41 p.m. EDT (1941 GMT). There, they'll join American astronaut Scott Tingle, Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who have all spent more than three months on the space station.
Arnold, who has taught middle school and high school science and mathematics, will be continuing NASA's "Year in Education on Station." Through this program, educators on the station for expeditions 53/54 and 55/56, which happen to cover the traditional September-August school year, will speak with schools from space via video and ham radio chats, as well as record activities that space science and technology down to Earth. Former teacher Joe Acaba returned to Earth safely on Feb. 27. (Acaba and Arnold previously teamed up, more directly, on a 2009 shuttle flight.)
Meanwhile, on the space station, Tingle, Kanai and Shkaplerov are preparing to greet the new arrivals and then, soon after, receive a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft; that spacecraft is set to launch April 2. Before that, on March 29, Feustel and Arnold are set to perform a spacewalk to install wireless antennas and replace cameras outside the station.