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Three-man Russian crew launches, headed to ISS

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Three-man Russian crew launches, headed to ISS
The Soyuz MS-21 rocket lifts off on time from Kazakhstan carrying three cosmonauts to the space station Friday. Photo courtesy of NASA

March 18 (UPI) -- Three Russian cosmonauts launched to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft Friday, NASA confirmed.

The spacecraft reached orbit safely.

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The three men make up the first all-Russian crew to fly to together in more than two decades, the head of Russia's federal space corporation tweeted.

The last all-Russian career-cosmonaut crew flew on the final mission to Russia's former space station Mir in 2000.

The mission takes place as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to make headlines.

The Soyuz rocket and capsule carrying cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov launched from Russia's spaceport in southern Kazakhstan at 11:55 a.m. EDT.

RELATED Astronauts wrap up spacewalk outside ISS to prep for new solar arrays

The Soyuz will dock to the station's Prichal module at 3:05 p.m. About two hours after docking, hatches between the Soyuz and the station will open.

Artemyev, 51, is on his third trip to the space station, while Matveev, 38, and Korsakov, 37, are both on their first spaceflights.

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The men are slated to spend six and a half months at the space station, replacing three members of the current seven-person crew at the ISS.

RELATED NASA says Mark Vande Hei will return from ISS on Russian spacecraft

Two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut, are slated to return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule March 30. The astronaut, Mark Vande Hei, broke the record for the single longest flight by an American.

The fact the crew is entirely Russian is coincidental and had been scheduled for some time.

"We still plan to work the crew swap. So we still have scheduled training for cosmonauts to come to Houston and Hawthorne and our team to go over to Star City and train for the Soyuz," NASA's manager for the International Space Station program Joel Montalbano said during a Monday press briefing.

On Tuesday, two NASA astronauts completed a spacewalk to prepare for the installation of new solar arrays at the ISS.

Astronauts Kayla Barron, 34, and Raja Chari, 44, spent six hours and 54 minutes on the spacewalk, their second and first spacewalks, respectively.

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