Russian Rocket Launches International Crew to Space Station (Video, Photos)

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A Russian Soyuz rocket launched three new crewmembers on an express trip to the International Space Station Wednesday (May 28), kicking off a months-long voyage in orbit.

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst of Germany and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev soared into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan at 3:57 p.m. EDT (1957 GMT) atop their Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. The crew is expected to dock to the orbiting outpost at 9:48 p.m. EDT (0148 May 29 GMT), and you can watch the spacecraft's arrival live on via NASA TV starting at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 May 29 GMT).

"All systems reported as nominal, going as expected," a NASA spokesman said during the live broadcast. After the crew made it safely to orbit, he described the lift-off as a "flawless launch." [Launch Photos: See the Soyuz Rocket Launch Into Space]

About five minutes into the flight, the three crewmembers exchanged high fives and gave thumbs-up signals at the onboard camera. A toy giraffe was hanging inside the capsule to help show when the crew entered microgravity. Wiseman's young daughters gave him the giraffe for good luck on the mission.

Wiseman and Gerst are both heading to space for the first time, while veteran cosmonaut Suraev has been to the space station before during a mission in 2009 and 2010. The launch today kicks off the crewmember's 5.5-month stay on the space station.

NASA's Wiseman is looking forward to life in space, and he plans to share it with people on Earth via social media.

"First I've got to learn how to live and work in space, and after that, I have to be a really good worker bee for NASA for our European and international partners because that's my job from 9 to 5 is getting the work done, getting the science done," Wiseman told in a video interview before launch. "Then free time that comes beyond that, I want to share this experience primarily using Twitter."

Russia's Soyuz spacecraft have been flying crewmembers on single-day trips to the space station since 2013. The trips would take two days before express trips began. Unmanned cargo ships have been flying these quick trips since 2012.

The three new crewmembers will join NASA's Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev on the orbiting outpost as part of the Expedition 40 crew. Once Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev depart the station in September, Wiseman, Gerst and Suraev will be part of the Expedition 41 crew.

Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only spacecraft that can transport humans to and from the International Space Station. NASA is hoping to start using private spaceships to ferry astronauts to and from the orbiting outpost by 2017.

You can follow all three of the crewmembers on social media. Suraev, Wiseman and Gerst all have active accounts on Twitter.

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