The International Space Station will receive its latest batch of visitors this weekend, with a new crew onboard a Soyuz spacecraft due to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday evening, local time.
Expedition 47 Soyuz commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, flight engineers Jeff Williams of NASA and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos will be conducting numerous experiments and testing technology during their five and a half month stay.
This will be Williams' fourth flight, and will set a new record for total time in space by a NASA astronaut, surpassing the recently returned Scott Kelly by 13 days.
Skripochka will be making his third flight and Ovchinins’ maiden voyage.
The trio will join NASA's Timothy Kopra, the European Space Agency's Timothy Peake and Roscosmos' Yuri Malenchenko, who are due to return to Earth on 1 June, 2016.
The six continue the hundreds of experiments already on the space station, with a couple of new objectives. One is to trial new exercise equipment.
Astronauts currently spend hours each day exercising to stave off bone and muscle loss. A robotic device called the Miniature Exercise Device (MED-2) clips onto existing equipment on the space station and generates resistance and aerobic exercise.
And unlike an exercise bike or treadmill, it weighs less than 30 kilograms and takes up a fraction of the room.
Another objective is to investigate how microgravity affects drug absorption in tablets – important for, say, those one day making the long journey to Mars.
To watch the launch, tune into the NASA live stream below on Friday 18 March at 9.26pm UTC (5.26pm EDT; 8.26am Saturday AEDT).
Jake Port contributes to the Cosmos explainer series.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.