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The crew of the International Space Station, including UT alumnus Butch Wilmore (in blue flight suit with U.S. flag) gives an interview to Russian media in this image from NASA.

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore and his Russian cosmonaut counterparts arrived at the International Space Station early Friday morning in their Soyuz capsule, beginning a six-month stint aboard the station.

Wilmore, who graduated from the University of Tennessee Space Institute with a master’s degree in aviation systems in 1994, will serve as the next commander of the space station, beginning when the current crew returns to earth in early November.

According to Russian media, Wilmore’s wife was able to talk to him once he was on board the space station, telling him that the launch was “totally awesome.”

“It was pretty good from our end, too,” he replied. “Everything went like clockwork.”

Wilmore, in an interview with CBS, said that the technical and physical demands of the mission went smoothly, but that “the hardest thing that I’ve done is learning Russian, by far.”

A Soyuz rocket carrying Butch Wilmore—a UT alumnus—and a Russian crew launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan late Thursday night.

While in orbit, Wilmore and his crew will conduct numerous experiments, some of the primary ones being related to how the body deals with pain and headaches in a zero-gravity environment, according to NASA.

Today’s launch marks Wilmore’s second visit to the space station, as he piloted space shuttle Atlantis on a mission to deliver supplies and return an astronaut to earth in 2009.

Though the launch and docking went smoothly, it was not without a minor hitch, as a solar panel on the Soyuz capsule didn’t deploy.

The Russian Federal Space Agency had some concerns that the panel’s failure to deploy might rob the capsule of some of the power needed on its return trip to earth in March.

The problem was solved when the force of the capsule docking with the station apparently was enough to dislodge the panel, allowing it to fully deploy.