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André Kuipers launched to the International Space Station

European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and Russian Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko launched to the International Space Station aboard their Soyuz TMA-03M craft at 7:16 a.m. CST Wednesday, Dec. 21 (7:16 p.m. local time), from Kazakhstan.

Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers are scheduled to dock to the Rassvet module of the station at 9:22 a.m. Friday, Dec. 23. They will receive a holiday welcome from station Commander Dan Burbank of NASA and Russian Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who have been aboard the orbital laboratory since mid-November.

NASA Television will provide live docking coverage beginning at 8:45 a.m. Friday. Hatch opening and welcoming ceremonies will occur about three hours later.

Upon arrival, Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers will become members of Expedition 30, restoring the station’s crew complement to six. They will continue scientific research and christen a new era of commercial resupply services from the United States, greeting the first SpaceX Dragon spaceship in mid-February. A Russian spacewalk to continue external assembly and maintenance of the station also is planned during Expedition 30.

Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are scheduled to return to Earth in March, and Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers will return home in May.

Watch a replay of the launch of the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Photo: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2011