Image: Soyuz launch
NASA
A Russian Soyuz rocket rises on a pillar of flame from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday, sending a three-person crew to the International Space Station.
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updated 7/14/2012 11:14:13 PM ET 2012-07-15T03:14:13

A Russian Soyuz rocket launched into orbit late Saturday, carrying three new crewmembers toward the International Space Station.

The rocket rose from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, lofting the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft into orbit. Liftoff came at 10:40 p.m. ET Saturday, which means it was early Sunday at the Central Asian spaceport. Onboard were an American, a Russian and a Japanese astronaut due to take up residence for four months at the orbiting outpost.

NASA TV showed the Soyuz soaring smoothly into a blue sky dotted with clouds, punching a hole through a cloud layer on its way up. It is due to dock at the station early Tuesday, at which time the three newcomers will join the existing crew of three on the space station's Expedition 32 mission.

The new complement includes NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and Japanese spaceflier Akihiko Hoshide.

"Unfortunately our mission is only four months — I wish it would be years and years and years," Williams said during a preflight briefing. "I'm really lucky to be flying with Yuri and Aki. I think we're going to have a great time."

An international milestone
By coincidence, the U.S.-Russian-Japanese crew's launch and docking is coinciding with the 37th anniversary of the world's first international space mission: the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

On July 15, 1975, NASA launched an Apollo capsule and the Soviet Union launched its Soyuz 19 capsule to perform the first international space docking test. The mission set the foundation for the international partnerships that have led to the $100 billion International Space Station in orbit today. [Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in Pictures]

In September, the current station crew — Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin of Russia, and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba — will return to Earth, and Williams will relieve Padalka as space station commander. She will be the second female space station commander in the facility's history. (NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson was the first, in 2007.)

"I'm not good at bossing people around — but my husband might say that's not so true," Williams joked. "If I say we're going to do this, they all jump on it. Everybody's also felt free to offer their two cents. I think it's going to be really, honestly, pretty easy, and part of that is communication."

The international crew will each be bringing a taste of home and their own cultures with them to share.

"I'm not a very good cook, but fortunately we have a couple of Japanese foods that I'm bringing up, so I'd like to share that with my fellow crewmates during my stay," Hoshide told Space.com. "Just sharing stories, talking to each other provides a great base of international cooperation."

Busy flight ahead
The Expedition 32 mission will be chock full of activities, highlighted by space station maintenance, visits by robotic cargo spacecraft, spacewalks (also known as extravehicular activities, or EVAs), and a full load of science experiments.

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"That's a whole lot of work the crew has to do to do the berthings, the dockings and the EVAs," said Mike Suffredini, International Space Station Program manager. "In addition we will allocate 35 hours per week to research."

Several visiting unmanned spacecraft are expected to deliver supplies to the space station during Expedition 32. One of those space freighters, a Japanese HTV-2 cargo ship, is slated to launch in just six days, NASA officials said.

There is at least one Russian spacewalk planned during the crew's stay, and possibly an American-led one as well.

"To do an EVA, this is always something special; I can compare it to docking a vehicle to station, and going outside, it's something unusual," Malenchenko said. "So we are looking forward to do this."

Commercial delivery
Williams, Malenchenko, and Hoshide may also be in space to see the first routine cargo delivery by a private spacecraft, if SpaceX launches its first Dragon supply-delivery run while they're there.

Dragon flew a test mission to the space station in May, and is now prepping to launch the first of 12 delivery flights the company is contracted for over the coming years.

"Getting the commercial sector involved, I think it's a good thing," Hoshide said. "It opens up new doors. I'm looking forward to that very much."

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or Space.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

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  5. Accidental art

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  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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