The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft is rolled out to the launch pad by train in the early hours of Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Launch of the Soyuz rocket is scheduled for March 19 and will carry Expedition 47 Soyuz Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos into orbit to begin their five and a half month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
Space Ninjas Prep for Journey to ISS
published during a waxing gibbous moon.
03/18/2016
Space Ninjas Prep

Expedition 47 NASA astronaut Jeff Williams exits his bus after arriving at Red Square to lay roses at the site where Russian space icons are interred as part of traditional pre-launch ceremonies Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, Moscow, Russia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Besides taking dazzling pictures of us from hundreds of miles away, the International Space Station (ISS) is a hub of experimentation. Today a rocket will fire off to the ISS, and in it will be three astronauts that will join the current station roster for Expedition 47. The Soyuz spacecraft will launch from Kazakhstan’s isolated pad.

The crew will investigate how hurtling through space affects human bodies — specifically, their muscles and skeleton, because zero gravity causes both to deteriorate at a more rapid pace than on Earth. Staving off atrophy will be key for any future lengthy missions, so they’ll also be testing more compact exercise equipment in a demonstration, according to the mission summary. (Tiny treadmills? We hope so.)

Microgravity, a fancier word for weak gravity that makes things appear weightless, also tends to mess with things as simple as taking pills. That is, if a pill or tablet doesn’t readily dissolve, the drug might not be released into your body like it should. So to see how some ingredients that the pharmaceutical industry uses fare in space, the crew wants to suss out if drug design needs to be altered for medicine in space (which can help us out on Earth, too).

Among the crew will be NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, who is set to break the American record for cumulative days in space at 534. Famed commander Scott Kelly, who returned to Earth earlier this month after his year in space, nabbed the title during the previous expedition. Williams will also hold another record for three space station expeditions.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin will also be on the journey, which will take about six hours till they safely dock, according to a NASA blog post.

The next crew, which will include NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, is scheduled to arrive in the summer. You can keep up with all of the expeditions and see future space ninjas training here.