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Christmas cosmonauts: American, Russian, and Dutchman bound for ISS

NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers plan to do 57 experiments during five months on the International Space Stations.

By Clara MoskowitzSpace.com / December 21, 2011

The Soyuz TMA-03M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 21, 2011 carrying Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers to the International Space Station.

(AP Photo/NASA, Carla Cioffi)

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Three spaceflyers blasted off today (Dec. 21) from snowy Kazakhstan to spend the holidays on the International Space Station.

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NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, part of the European Space Agency (ESA), lifted off atop the Russian Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:16 a.m. EST (1316 GMT).

The trio is bound for the space station, where they are scheduled to dock on Friday (Dec. 23) at 10:22 a.m. EST (1522 GMT). They are set to begin a roughly five-month stay on the orbiting outpost as part of the station's Expedition 30 mission, and will return in May 2012.

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ettit, Kononenko and Kuipers will join the three spaceflyers already on the station: commander Daniel Burbank of NASA and flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin of Russia. Their arrival will beef up the station's crew complement to its full six members.

Holiday celebrations

The new arrivals will find the space laboratory festive for the holidays. The current crew has put up holiday decorations to mark the season, and Burbank sent a holiday greeting video down to the people of Earth. [Space Station Commander Sends Holiday Greetings to Earth]

"We'll celebrate the holidays in great fashion after they get here," Burbank said of the new crewmembers. "We've already put up decorations, and we've gathered together all the cards and gifts that our friends and families have sent to us, and we're planning a couple of big meals. That'll be great."

Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers, each veteran spaceflyers who've been to the space station before, will also have their work cut out for them once they arrive at their new home-away-from-home. In addition to wide-ranging scientific research projects, the crewmembers will spend their time keeping up the station and fixing anything that might break.

"If liquid's squirting out someplace then it's like I'm a plumber for the day; if an electronics box isn't working right then you're an electrical repairman for the day," Pettit said during a press conference a few months before the launch. "You have to remember that the space station is so complicated, no one person could keep all the details in your mind. That's why we need all the folks on the ground."

The presence of six crewmembers onboard the station will allow each spaceflyer to dig deep into research.

"I think I have something like 57 experiments from NASA, from ESA and also from JAXA," the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Kuipers said in a press conference earlier this year. "There's a whole bunch of experiments that I'm looking forward to, experiments in different fields — fluid physiology, fluid physics."

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