Update 4:15 p.m.: NASA is reporting that the launch was successful:
Tune back in to watch the Soyuz rocket land on the ISS at 9 p.m. EDT, and dock at 11 p.m. EDT. We'll have that streaming live below.
Original post: Today, three astronauts will leave Earth for the International Space Station (ISS) where, if all goes according to plan, they should land six hours after the launch.
U.S. astronaut Reid Wiseman, Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, and German astronaut Alexander Gerst, are scheduled to take off in the Soyuz rocket at 3:57 p.m. EDT from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The three travelers will spend five and a half months on the ISS, joining three — NASA's Steve Swanson and Roscosmos's Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov — who have been on board the station since March 27. Those three are set to return to Earth on September 10, and three others will replace them later that month.
Together, Wiseman, Suraev, Gerst, Swanson, Artemyev and Skvortsov make up Expedition 40. According to NASA, they'll spend their time together performing various space-based experiments:
The tenure of Expedition 40 will include a variety of research projects focusing on human research, biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, physical science investigations, technology demonstrations and educational activities. Results from these activities will help advance the body of scientific knowledge, leading to potential Earth benefits such as improved weather forecasts and human medical advancements.... There are also two Russian and three U.S. spacewalks planned during Expedition 40.
The mission follows a period of heightened tension between Russia and U.S., and between the countries respective space programs. Soyuz is Russian-made, and NASA relies on these rockets to send American astronauts to the Space Station and return them home safely. Harsh words among diplomats amidst the Ukrainian crisis have raised fears that the U.S. could be shut out of space exploration until it can build American-made spacecraft to reach the ISS. But NASA representatives say that today's launch is set to go smoothly.
NASA Associate Administrator for Spaceflight Operations William Gerstenmaier told Florida's News13 that “Even at this time when where it’s a little shaky politically and other areas, there’s still a tremendous spirit of how we can accomplish this... we can be a model for others of how real teams can work together despite challenging times.”
Nothing brings people together like leaving the planet, we guess.
NASA's coverage of the launch begins at 3:00 p.m. EDT today (with blast off set for shortly before 4:00 p.m.) and picks up again at 9 p.m., for the landing, and 11 p.m., when the docking hatch is set to open. You can watch below, or on NASA's website here.
NASA's twitter account, @NASA, is sure to provide relevant information and photographs: