Pi in the Sky! Soyuz Rocket Launches New US-Russian Crew to Space Station

Some people celebrate Pi Day by baking flaky, fruity confections. Some people celebrate Pi Day by rattling off long strings of numbers. And some people celebrate Pi Day by climbing aboard a rocket and launching into space.

That's how NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, as well as Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, celebrated the math-minded holiday, blasting off today (March 14) as scheduled, at 3:14 p.m. EDT (1914 GMT) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was the second smooth launch of a crewed Soyuz capsule since the failed launch that sent Hague and Ovchinin plummeting back to Earth on Oct. 11.

"A great launch of the Soyuz-MS12 crew," NASA spokesperson Gary Jordan said during the agency's live coverage of the launch. "A textbook ascent and the Soyuz is in orbit, solar arrays deployed and the crew is on its way."

Related: Expedition 59: The Space Station Mission in Photos

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The rocket to launch the MS-12 spacecraft to the space station rolls out to its launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The rocket to launch the MS-12 spacecraft to the space station rolls out to its launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
(Image: © Bill Ingalls/NASA)
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The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft and rocket is seen ready to launch NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, as well as cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft and rocket is seen ready to launch NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, as well as cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
(Image: © Victor Zelentsov/NASA)
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A Soyuz rocket carrying a trio of astronauts blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:14 p.m. EDT (1914 GMT) on March 14, 2019.

A Soyuz rocket carrying a trio of astronauts blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:14 p.m. EDT (1914 GMT) on March 14, 2019.
(Image: © NASA/Bill Ingalls)
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The Russian Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft carrying three new crewmembers for the International Space Station's Expedition 58/59 crew is seen as it docks at the orbiting lab on March 14, 2019.

The Soyuz MS-12 flew a "fast-track" mission to the International Space Station, arriving just six hours after liftoff.
(Image: © NASA TV)
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The Russian Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft carrying three new crewmembers for the International Space Station's Expedition 58/59 crew is seen as it docks at the orbiting lab on March 14, 2019.

The Soyuz MS-12 is seen here in HD cameras mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station. The spacecraft made four orbits of Earth before arriving at the station.
(Image: © NASA TV)
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The Russian Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft carrying three new crewmembers for the International Space Station's Expedition 58/59 crew is seen as it docks at the orbiting lab on March 14, 2019.

The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft docked with the space station at 9:01 p.m. EDT (0101 GMT) as both spacecraft sailed high over the Pacific Ocean, just west of the coast of the Peru.
(Image: © NASA TV)

After a 6-hour journey, the astronauts arrived at the International Space Station, which they'll be calling home for the next 6.5 months. Their Soyuz MS-12 capsule docked with the station at 9:01 p.m. EDT (0101 March 15 GMT) as the two spacecraft sailed 255 miles (410 kilometers) over the Pacific Ocean, just west of the coast of Peru. 

The hatches between the two spacecraft were opened about 2 hours after docking, with the  three astronauts joining their new roommates: NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques. Those three spacefarers boarded the orbiting laboratory in December.

"It's great to be up here," Hague told well-wishers at Baikonur Cosmodrome in a video conference after docking. "This launch went infinitely more better than the last one," he told his wife Katie, who watched the launch in person Thursday. 

Aside from a 2.5-week period after those astronauts' arrival, the space station has hosted just three astronauts since early October because of the failed launch that would have carried Hague and Ovchinin to the orbiting laboratory.

Once the trio of new crewmembers arrive, they'll need to settle into their new quarters quickly, as they have a busy agenda ahead of them. Hague and McClain are scheduled to conduct a spacewalk on March 22, Koch and McClain will do the same on March 29, and Hague and Saint-Jacques will step outside on April 8. The second of those events will be the first spacewalk conducted by an all-female crew.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, joined by Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, prepare for launch on March 14, 2019.

(Image: © NASA/Bill Ingalls)

April will also see the arrival of cargo capsules launched by Northrop Grumman and by SpaceX, as well as, if all goes well, the uncrewed test flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner that will eventually pave the way for commercial companies to launch astronauts to the space station. 

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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