Watch astronauts blast off to the International Space Station

Watch astronauts blast off to the International Space Station

The rocket launch is pencilled in for liftoff at 12.12pm BST (5.12pm local time in Baikonur or 7.12am EDT in the US). This crew will be comprised of Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency.

Rather than dismantling the space station, the memo said, the plan was to "expand global and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit".

The International Space Station's international nature does of course complicate the idea of the US turning it over to a commercial consortium, and Bridenstine told the Post that he was aware companies may find it "hard to close the business case".

"The crew will orbit Earth 34 times before the spacecraft's arrival and docking", NASA announced in an update.

The livestream above, courtesy of NASA TV's public streaming service, began coverage at 11.15pm BST straight from the Kazakhstani Cosmodrome.

The three astronauts returned safely to Earth on June 3 in a parachute-assisted landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

The trio will be received by Expedition 56 commander Drew Feustel and flight engineers Ricky Arnold of NASA and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos.

They will spend six months aboard the station, joining the three-man crew that's already aboard. Once aboard the ISS, Expedition 56 (and 57) will "work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science".

With a view to deploying its reusable rocket system for crewed trips to and from the space station, SpaceX is continuing to develop its Dragon capsule.

American, German and Russian astronauts were on board.

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