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ISS welcomes new crew, record for total days in space set to be broken

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INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION — Less than three weeks after Scott Kelly returned from his record-breaking space expedition, three astronauts docked at the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin, replaced Kelly and two cosmonauts from the Russian Federal Space Agency, who completed their mission on March 1.

The trio will conduct hundreds of biology, biotechnology, physical science and earth science experiments over six months on ISS.

Williams is set to break Kelly’s American record for cumulative days in space, with a whopping 534 days away from Earth. Kelly’s last trip, which spanned nearly a year, was the longest time an American astronaut spent in orbit. Over four flights, Kelly spent 520 days in space.

The crew lifted off in the Soyuz rocket from a Kazakhstan launch site on Friday evening. Less than six hours later, it arrived at the ISS, orbiting at about 250 miles above the Earth’s surface.

As he begins his stay, 58-year-old Williams, a retired Army colonel and Wisconsin native who has already logged 362 days in space, leaves his wife, two adult sons and three grandchildren back on Earth. Friday marked his third space station trip — another record, according to NASA.

Williams took to Twitter, recalling a return from a mission in 2010.

He is set to take command of ISS on June 4.

As for the two Russian cosmonauts, 46-year-old Skripochka, who leaves behind his wife and two children, is returning to ISS after completing a five-month stay there in 2011. Friday marked the first space flight for Ovchinin, the 44-year-old commander of the Soyuz craft.

The trio joins a NASA commander, a European Space Agency flight engineer and a cosmonaut already at the station.