A three-man crew of space travelers from the U.S. and Russia launched successfully and reached the International Space Station on Friday.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov blasted off as scheduled at 12:42 p.m. (7:42 a.m. GMT) aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.
They docked at the station after a two-orbit journey that lasted just over three hours.
It is the second space mission for Vande Hei and the third for Novitskiy, while Dubrov is on his first mission.
The launch came three days before the 60th anniversary of the first human flight to space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the 40th anniversary of the first launch of NASA’s space shuttle, two of the biggest milestones in space exploration.
“When we started, we were competing with each other and that was one of the reasons we were so successful at the beginning of human space flight," Vande Hei said at a pre-flight news conference Thursday. "And as time went on, we realized that by working together we can achieve even more. And of course, that’s continuing to this day and I hope that it will continue into the future.”
The three will work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.
On the International Space Station, they are joining NASA’s Kate Rubins, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, Russians Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov arrived in a Soyuz ship in October; Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi – the crew of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience – joined them in November.