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

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 credit: 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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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.