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Veteran crew en route to space station

A trio of experienced astronauts blasted off Saturday night from Kazakhstan's Baikonour Cosmodrome to join the crew aboard the International Space Station.

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Malenchenko then flew on NASA's STS-106 shuttle mission to the International Space Station early in its assembly period. He later commanded the station's Expedition 7 mission in 2003 and served as a flight engineer with the Expedition 16 crew in 2007-2008. The Expedition 32 mission is Malenchenko's fifth spaceflight.

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Sunita Williams: Williams, 46, hails from Needham, Mass., and is a U.S. Navy captain making her second long-duration spaceflight. She served as a flight engineer on an overlapping mission that spanned the Expedition 14 and 15 missions in 2006 and 2007, and traveling to and from the station on NASA space shuttles.

Williams currently holds the world record for most spacewalks by a woman (four) and the most time in space by a female astronaut (195 days). She is married and has a beloved Yorkshire terrier named Gorby. The Expedition 32 flight marks Williams' second spaceflight. [The Most Extreme Human Spaceflight Records]

Akhiko Hoshide: Hoshide, 44, is an astronaut with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and is making his second spaceflight on the Expedition 32 mission. An aerospace engineer by training, Hoshide first flew to the space station in 2008 during NASA's 13-day STS-124 shuttle mission to deliver Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module to the International Space Station.

The space station research to be performed by the Expedition 32 crew covers a variety of disciplines, from biology and human health to basic materials science and physics. Now that the football field-size laboratory is completely built, the astronauts working there can devote more time than ever to carrying out experiments.

"Through the remainder of this year, 200 experiments will be performed," said Tara Ruttley, associate program scientist for the space station at NASA. "Each of these investigations will provide knowledge that advances human exploration of space, and improves daily life on Earth."

In September, Padalka, Revin and Acaba will fly back home, and Williams will assume command of the space station. She will be the second female space station commander to date, following in the footsteps of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who commanded the Expedition 16 in 2008.

"It's hard to say that I think I'll have any great challenges because we've got such a great crew," Williams said. "We're very easy to talk to each other. I think the open lines of communication will make being a commander pretty easy."

You can watch the Expedition 32 crew launch into space live on NASA TV tonight. NASA's webcast can be accessed here: 

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or @Spacedotcom. We're also onFacebook & Google+.

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