Three people just arrived at the International Space Station — and two of them are space tourists.
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, video producer Yozo Hirano and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin made contact with the orbiting lab Wednesday (Dec. 8) at 8:40 a.m. EST (1340 GMT).
The trio left Earth just six hours earlier, launching atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday at 2:38 a.m. EST (1738 GMT).
The hatches between the International Space Station and the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft are scheduled to open at 10:35 a.m. EST (1535 GMT) on Wednesday. You can watch that moment, which will allow the trio to leave the Soyuz to join the rest of the crew aboard the station, here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, or directly via the space agency. Coverage is set to begin at 10:15 a.m. EST (1515 GMT).
Photos: The first space tourists
The mission of Maezawa, Hirano and Misurkin was organized by the Virginia company Space Adventures, which previously helped to send seven paying customers on eight trips to the space station. (One of those people flew twice.) But it had been a while; the most recent of those Space Adventures flights launched in 2009.
Maezawa, the CEO of Start Today and the founder of online clothing retailer ZOZO, bought the seats for himself and Hirano, who will document the 12-day mission and participate in some health and performance research. Veteran cosmonaut Misurkin, the mission commander, will show the newbies the ropes.
The trio are scheduled to come back down to Earth on Sunday (Dec. 19). After landing, Maezawa will presumably begin thinking ahead to his next spaceflight, which will take him much farther afield. The billionaire has booked a round-the-moon trip on SpaceX's huge Starship vehicle, with liftoff tentatively targeted for 2023.
Two other amateur spaceflyers lived aboard the space station recently as well. Russian film director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild visited the orbiting lab for 12 days in October, to film parts of a movie called "The Challenge." Their trip was not organized by Space Adventures.
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).