Astronauts en route to space station after successful launch

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev

A trio of astronauts from Russian Federation, the United States and the European Space Agency blasted off Wednesday for a mission on the International Space Station.

The Soyuz spacecraft's passengers include: Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency and Sergey Prokopyev, a cosmonaut with the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Already aboard the space outpost are NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, as well as Oleg Artemyev of Russia's Roscosmos.

The ISS crew spent a staggering 168 days in orbit, circling the Earth 2,688 times and covering a distance of 71.2 million miles.

The NASA live stream comes days after the United States space agency broadcasted the return of Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov, flight engineer Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency touching back on Earth.

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NASA TV will feature live streaming coverage of the docking process, as well as the hatch opening and welcoming process, beginning at 8:15 a.m. Friday. The hatch opening will occur at just after 11 a.m. ET, with the three astronauts entering the space station soon after. Once aboard the ISS, Expedition 56 (and 57) will "work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science".

The International Space Station's newest crew members are en route to their new home.

When given the choice of humans or robots in future NASA space expeditions, 58 percent of American adults believe that human astronauts are essential, while 41 percent say that humans are not essential to these types of missions.

Blue Origin, on the other hand, is testing a system that it hopes will form the basis of a commercial space tourism service, though it also has ambitions far beyond that.

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