Three Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station today (March 18), wrapping up a brief orbital chase.
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov docked with the station's new Prichal module at 3:12 p.m. EDT (1912 GMT) as both vehicles were flying over eastern Kazakhstan.
The meetup occurred less than 3.5 hours after the Soyuz launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The hatches between the Soyuz and the station opened at 5:48 p.m. EDT (2148 GMT), allowing the three cosmonauts to meet their crewmates on the orbiting lab.
Artemyev, Matveev and Korsakov are the first all-cosmonaut crew to lift off since 2000, when Sergei Zalyotin and Aleksandr Kaleri flew the final mission to Russia's Mir space station. Cosmonauts have flown many missions since then, of course, but until today they had always shared their spacecraft with a professional astronaut from another nation, or with a space tourist.
Artemyev, Matveev and Korsakov are scheduled to stay aboard the station until September. The three newcomers are joining seven people on the orbiting lab: cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency and NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Mark Vande Hei.
Shkaplerov, Dubrov and Vande Hei won't stay in orbit for much longer, however; the trio will return to Earth aboard a Soyuz on March 30. This schedule will hold despite Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the increased geopolitical tensions it has spawned, NASA officials have said, stressing that International Space Station operations are continuing as usual.
The space station will get yet more visitors soon. On April 3, SpaceX plans to launch the Ax-1 mission, which will send four private citizens to the orbiting lab for an eight-day stay. And Elon Musk's company is scheduled to launch the Crew-4 astronaut mission for NASA on April 19.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:53 p.m. EDT (2153 GMT) on March 18 with news of hatch opening.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).