Three new astronauts welcomed aboard the International Space Station

The astronauts will spend their mission maintaining the station and working on scientific experiments that cannot be done anywhere else

Three new astronauts welcomed aboard the International Space Station

Space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Image: Dmitri Lovetsky AP/Press Association Images

Three astronauts have begun a six month mission 250 miles above earth after docking with the International Space Station.

The new residents - from France, Russia and the US - arrived onboard a Russian spacecraft following a two day journey last night.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and Roscosmos commander Oleg Novitsky were welcomed aboard the station just after midnight last night.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, right, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, centre, and U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson. Image: Dmitri Lovetsky AP/Press Association Images

They will spend their mission maintaining the station and working on scientific experiments that cannot be done anywhere else - exploiting the weightlessness that is unique to the space laboratory.

NASA said some of the research planned for the mission includes an examination of how lighting impacts the overall health and well-being of crew members, and how microgravity affects tissue regeneration in humans.

The new residents will also be experimenting with the genetic properties of space-grown plants.

Mr Pesquet, 38 is the ninth astronaut to embark on a long duration mission for the ESA and the first Frenchman to be sent by the space agency to the station since 2008.

In February, Ms Whitson - a NASA veteran - will become the first woman to command the space station twice.  

She became the first woman to command the station in 2007 and by April she will become the first US astronaut to have spent more than 534 days in space.

Russian air force pilot, Oleg Novitsky, 45 is making his second trip to the space station.

The three will join Russians Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov, and American Shane Kimbrough in orbit.

The new arrivals will spend six months in space before returning to land in the steppes of Kazakhstan.