Just because 47 missions have blasted humans up to the International Space Station doesn’t mean it doesn’t blow us away every time. Tonight, astronauts Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi and cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin will launch from Kazakhstan at about 9:36 pm Eastern, orbiting the Earth for about two days before docking their Soyuz capsule with the ISS on Friday night.
“Docking” doesn’t quite do the maneuver justice, though: Both spacecraft will be orbiting at a little under five miles per second relative to the ground. At that ludicrous speed they have to find each other, orient in exactly the right direction, and perfectly align without damaging anything.
The spacefarers won’t be asleep for those two days, either. While in orbit, they’ll test a number of ship components that might be used for future missions up to the ISS: new thrusters, motors, and video and communication systems designed to make it easier to navigate the ship and know where it is in space. Pretty important details when it comes to docking–or any spaceship maneuver, for that matter.
Rubins, Ivanishin, and Onishi will join the station’s current three-person crew until September, when they’ll kick the incumbents off to make room for another incoming trio. They’ll come back down to Earth in October. In those four months in space, they’ll run over 250 science experiments–including the first-ever DNA sequencing in space. There’s still plenty of history to be be made on the ISS.
Watch NASA’s livestream starting at 8:30 pm Eastern tonight, and come back on Friday to see the docking and arrival starting at 11:30 pm Eastern.
Update: 22:00 ET 7/6/16: The Soyuz made it into orbit with no hiccups.