BAIKONUR (Kazakhstan) • A multinational crew, including the oldest and most experienced woman to fly in space, blasted off from Kazakhstan this week for the International Space Station.
The Russian Soyuz rocket carrying American astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday.
They had on board their spacecraft a selection of gourmet dishes such as foie gras and duck breast confit from world-famous chefs Alain Ducasse and Thierry Marx, to be enjoyed at Christmas, New Year and two birthdays.
The three will return home in May.
Dr Whitson, 56, a biochemist and Nasa's former chief astronaut, is making her third trip to the station, a US$100 million (S$142 million) research laboratory that flies about 420km above Earth.
By the time she returns to Earth after the six-month mission, she will have accumulated more time in orbit than any other United States astronaut, surpassing the 534-day record set in September by astronaut Jeff Williams.
"The most important thing about the station is the friendships and the work we accomplish there," Dr Whitson said during a pre-launch news conference in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
Mr Novitskiy, 45, who is making his second spaceflight, said: "The station is... a place where we can demonstrate to the entire world that you can have normal relations, where you can work without being distracted by things that don't really matter."
Joining the two space veterans is Mr Pesquet, 38, a rookie astronaut representing the European Space Agency.
The three are scheduled to reach the station at 6.01am tomorrow (Singapore time) where they will be greeted by Nasa astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian flight engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who arrived on Oct 21.
The combined crew will be one of the last six-member teams to live on the station for a while.
Beginning in March, Russia plans to cut the number of cosmonauts serving on the station from three to two, following delays in the launch of a new science laboratory.
The Multipurpose Laboratory Module is now expected to be launched in 2018.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE