A veteran Russian cosmonaut, a rookie Italian astronaut and an American mother on her second flight blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday for a six-hour ride to the International Space Station.
The Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off at 4:31 p.m. EDT, streaking through clear, pre-dawn skies in Kazakhstan as it headed into orbit, a NASA TV broadcast showed.
In command of the Soyuz capsule was cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, 54, who already has made two long-duration flights aboard the space station and one aboard NASA's now-retired space shuttle.
He was joined by Luca Parmitano, 36, a major in the Italian Air Force. Parmitano, who initially studied political science and international law at the University of Naples, and will be the first Italian to live aboard the station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
"This is very momentous," Parmitano said in a preflight NASA interview.
NASA allotted the crew slot to the Italian Space Agency as part of a barter agreement for cargo carriers that were taken to the station aboard the shuttles. One module was converted into a storage closet and left aboard the station.
Rounding out the crew is NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, a 43-year-old mechanical engineer who has one previous spaceflight on her resume, a two-week shuttle mission. She leaves behind her astronaut husband, Doug Hurley, and their 3-year-old son, Jack.
"Time for me to 'unplug!' Thanks everyone for well wishes and great interest in what our nations do in space," Nyberg wrote on Twitter seven hours before liftoff.
The crew is expected to reach the space station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth about six hours after launch, an expedited trip that has been made by only one other previous crew.
Awaiting their arrival are station commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineers Alexander Misurkin and Chris Cassidy. The men are two months into a planned six-month mission.
The combined crews will oversee more than 100 research experiments and technology tests currently under way aboard the station. Nyberg, an avid quilter, said she also was bringing along sewing supplies, a sketch book and pencils.
"I'm really hoping to spend some of my free time drawing," Nyberg said in a preflight interview.
"I used to mostly draw portraits, and gave them to friends, but I haven't done it in a long time. I am hoping I can get back to some of that while I am in space," she said.
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