Three-man crew blasts off to International Space Station

VIDEO: REUTERS
Photographers capture the spacecraft as it takes off for the ISS.
Photographers capture the spacecraft as it takes off for the ISS.PHOTO: EPA

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AFP) - A three-man crew from Italy, Russia and the United States on Friday (July 28) blasted off from Kazakhstan for a five-month mission on the International Space Station (ISS).

Footage broadcast by Russia's space agency Roscosmos showed the Soyuz craft carrying Nasa astronaut Randy Bresnik, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency take off from the Baikonur cosmodrome.

"Everything is ok," said Russian mission control.

The arrival of the three astronauts will boost the ISS back up to its full capacity of six for the time since April, after Russia decided to cut the number of its cosmonauts to two.

Nasa has responded to Russia's reduction by boosting the number of astronauts that will operate in its half of the ISS.

In total, four astronauts - Peggy Whitson, Jack Fischer, Bresnik and Nespoli - will now conduct experiments in the Nasa-run segment, with Ryazansky joining Fyodor Yurchikhin to man the Russian section.

Bresnik said at a pre-launch press conference on Thursday that the extra member would help the crew conduct experiments as well as carry out repairs.

"There is a ton of science to do," he enthused ahead of the six-hour flight.

Bresnik - who is on his second flight - also praised the work of Whitson, Fischer and Yurchikhin, already aboard the orbital lab.

"They've really got their groove on. They are working very, very well. They have good technique and tempo," he said.

Ryazansky, 42, who is embarking on his third stint aboard the ISS said at the press conference that he would be taking a small gnome into space in tribute to a song beloved by his family.

At 60-year-old and with 174 days logged in space, Nespoli is the most experienced of the three fliers, but the Italian made it clear his love for space travel has not faded over time with a tweet showing him pulling his space suit on Friday.

"Beam me up S...oyuz! Hitching another ride soon to the @Space-Station," he wrote.

The US$100 billion (S$135 billion) ISS space laboratory has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kmh since 1998.

Space is one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia and the US that has not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and Syria.