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The soft x-ray materials science instrument is the second operational beamline at the linac coherent light source x-ray free electron laser. The instrument operates with a photon energy range of 480–2000 eV and features a grating monochromator as well as bendable refocusing mirrors. A broad range of experimental stations may be installed to study diverse scientific topics such as: ultrafast chemistry, surface science, highly correlated electron systems, matter under extreme conditions, and laboratory astrophysics. Preliminary commissioning results are presented including the first soft x-ray single-shot energy spectrum from a free electron laser.