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New space station crew members are en route after Sunday blastoff

Dec. 17 (UPI) — Members of Expedition 54 are on their way to the International Space Station after the Russian Soyuz rocket and spacecraft successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday morning.

The craft is carrying commander Anton Shkaplerov, NASA flight engineer Scott Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai.

The Soyuz-FG rocket blasted off at 2:21 a.m. ET, 1:21 p.m. local time. Nearly nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s upper stage powered off its boosters and released the Soyuz-MS spacecraft into space.

The craft will deliver the space station’s newest inhabitants on Tuesday. It will be received by the Earth-facing docking port on the station’s Russian Rassvet module.

Upon arrival, Shkaplerov, Tingle and Kanai will join Expedition 54 Commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and flight engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA.

The crew members will spend the next six months managing some 250 science investigations. They will conduct experiments in a variety of fields, including planetary science, physics, microbiology, biotechnology and genetics.

Just hours after the Soyuz rocket took off, the space station received a cargo capsule delivering dozens of new science experiments, as well as supplies and equipment.

Several experiments will consider the benefits and drawbacks of manufacturing fiber optic filaments under microgravity conditions. Another will have Tingle attempt to control the movement of a robot in Munich, Germany, using a remote on the space station.

The crew members plan to take a break from their scientific duties to celebrate the holidays. Shkaplerov, Tingle and Kanai are traveling to the space station with a bundle of presents.

“The holidays are coming up, and I have some special gifts for my fellow crew members that will help us bring in Christmas and the New Year,” Tingle told reporters. “And of course, we have Anton, our world-famous commander, (his) birthday is coming up in February. I can’t tell you what we’re going to do there because it’s a surprise!”

Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin are scheduled to depart the space station in February 2018, while Tingle, Shkaplerov and Kanai won’t come home until April.

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