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Russian Craft Brings New Crew Members to Space Station

Image: Soyuz launch
A Russian Soyuz rocket rises from its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Monday, sending spacefliers from the United States and Russia toward the International Space Station. Roscosmos

A Russian spaceship delivered three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy to the International Space Station on Sunday after an orbital ride lasting less than six hours.

The Soyuz capsule roared into the darkness just after 4 p.m. ET Sunday (3 a.m. local time Monday) from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Inside the capsule were Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry Virts and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Four orbits later, the craft docked with the space station at 9:48 p.m. ET. The freshly arrived trio is joining three other spacefliers who have been living aboard the station for weeks: NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova.

Serova is the first Russian woman to live aboard the International Space Station, and Cristoforetti's arrival marks only the second time in the station's 16-year history that two women have been conducting long-term missions simultaneously. The first time came in 2010, when Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Shannon Walker were on the station for Expedition 24.

During a pre-launch news conference, Cristoforetti, a 37-year-old Italian Air Force pilot, deflected questions about her status as Italy’s first female astronaut. When asked by a reporter if she planned to wear cosmetics in space, Cristoforetti looked confused, then replied, “Maybe you should ask Terry. Maybe he wants to take some makeup with him.”

The new crew's six-month tour of duty is also expected to mark the first taste test of fresh-brewed espresso in space. The ISSpresso coffeemaker was designed to work in zero gravity by Italy's Lavazza coffee company and Argotec engineering firm. It will be tested under the terms of a private-public partnership associated with Cristoforetti's mission.

— The Associated Press, Reuters and NBC News Staff