The International Space Station will be back at full strength later today. Since March 1, astronauts Timothy Kopra and Timothy Peake along with cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko have been the only crewmembers aboard the ISS. That changes late tonight.

At 5:26 pm EST, U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexy Ovchinin will blast off into the skies above the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Five hours later, they will reach the International Space Station. About two hours after docking, the three new crewmembers will step foot onto the ISS. NASA will begin hatch opening coverage at 12:30 am EST. The hatch will open at 12:55 am EST.

Let’s meet the crew.

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams astronaut

Like many astronauts, Williams was in the military before joining NASA. He served more than 27 years before retiring from active duty in 2007.

Becoming a NASA astronaut seemed like a forgone conclusion. After completing a graduate program in Aeronautical Engineering, Williams was tapped for an Army assignment at the Johnson Space Center. While there, he served in several capacities supporting the Space Shuttle Program.

In 1992, Williams went to the Naval Test Pilot School. Throughout his nearly three decades of service, Williams has flown more than 50 different aircraft and logged 3,000 hours.

NASA selected Williams in during the Astronaut Class of 1996. Since then, he has become one of the most seasoned astronauts at NASA. In 2000, Williams served aboard STS-101. This was the third shuttle mission dedicated to space station construction. During the mission’s EVAs, Williams helped transport and install more than 5,000 pounds of equipment.

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Today’s trip to the International Space Station will mark Williams third stay aboard the research station. He served on Expedition 13 and Expedition 21/22. Tonight’s docking will make him one of the crewmembers of Expedition 47. Once the current crew returns to Earth, Williams will become Commander of Expedition 48. And will wrap up his stay aboard the ISS by beating Scott Kelly’s record for most cumulative days in space by an American. When Williams sets his feet on Earth again, he’ll have 534 days in space under his belt – topping Scott Kelly’s 520 days.

Alexey Ovchinin

Alexey Ovchinin cosmonaut

Like Williams, Ovchinin also served as a pilot. During a six-year stretch beginning in August 1992, Ovchinin served as an instructor pilot at the Eisk Air Force Pilot School. He went on to serve as an instructor pilot at the Krasnodar Aviation Institute before ultimately becoming an air flight commander.

Ovchinin’s journey to the International Space Station began in 2006 when he was selected as a test-cosmonaut candidate. He completed his training and has been a qualified test-cosmonaut since June 2009.

Expeditions 47/48 will be Ovchinin’s first trip to the International Space Station.

Oleg Skripochka

Oleg Skripochka cosmonaut

Skripochka experience with space began while working at RSC Energia; a company focused on building spacecraft and space station components. In 1997, he was selected as a cosmonaut candidate. In 1999, Skripochka became a test cosmonaut.

Skripochka is also an experienced skydiver with 300 parachute jumps.

On October 7, 2010 – Skripochka began his first stay aboard the International Space Station. There, he served as a flight engineer and spent 159 days in space.

Bottom line? If you want to be an astronaut, you need to be smart and a badass.

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What are the goals for Expedition 47?

NASA’s ultimate goal is manned-missions to Mars and the science done by Expedition 47 will help further that goal. One of the missions continues the previous work done on the musculoskeletal system.

Bone and muscle mass loss are a constant problem for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Crew members exercise several hours each day to help mitigate the impacts caused by low gravity. The Assessment of Myostatin Inhibition to Prevent Skeletal Muscle Atrophy and Weakness in Mice Exposed to Long-duration Spaceflight (Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly) will give scientists more data about muscle and bone loss in space and will also test an antibody that prevents muscle wasting in mice on Earth.

Another science investigation will look at how gravity affects how tablets dissolve in water.

Right now, NASA and Roscosmos have no spacewalks planned. Expedition 47 will wrap up on June 5 when the current ISS crew members return to Earth. Williams will assume command of the ISS for Expedition 48 until he comes back to Earth on September 7.

Want to catch all of today’s action? Launch coverage begins at NASA TV at 4:30 pm EST. Launch is at 5:26 pm EST. And the three new ISS crew members will take their first step aboard the space station at 12:55 am EST.

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