BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan • A Soyuz spacecraft with three astronauts on board, including the first Dane to fly into space, has blasted off towards the International Space Station (ISS).
The trio launched on schedule yesterday from the same launchpad in Kazakhstan that Yuri Gagarin used for his historic entry into the cosmos in 1961.
"The crew is doing well, everything is in order onboard," said a message relayed by mission control.
Veteran cosmonaut Sergei Volkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos is leading a team that also includes first-time flyers Aidyn Aimbetov from Kazakhstan's space agency and Denmark's Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency.
They are expected to make the journey to the ISS in two days, docking tomorrow.
The take-off also marked the 500th launch from the Gagarin launchpad, named after the Soviet space pioneer.
Mr Volkov will stay on at the ISS, while both Mr Aimbetov and Mr Mogensen will return to Earth next week.
Mr Mogensen is the first Dane to enter space while Mr Aimbetov, who replaced British singer Sarah Brightman after she pulled out of the mission in June, is the third from his country to do so.
Mr Mogensen, 38, carries 26 custom-made Lego models provided especially for the mission by the world-famous Danish toy manufacturer, as well as the writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
Mr Aimbetov, 43, took dried horse milk and several other national staples from the Central Asian country, as well as a toy from his daughter, who said she hoped he would encounter alien life.
Before the flight, Kazakhstan's Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev noted that Mr Volkov's cosmonaut father Alexander Volkov accompanied the first-ever Kazakh cosmonaut to enter space, Mr Toktar Aubakirov, on a 1991 mission.
The launch from Baikonur is the first since July 23. Prior to that, Russia had put all space travel on hold after the failure of the unmanned Progress freighter in late April. The doomed ship lost contact with Earth and burned up in the atmosphere. In May, another Russian spacecraft, a Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite, crashed soon after launch.