BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN (AFP) - A three-man space crew featuring American and Japanese rookie astronauts as well as an experienced Russian cosmonaut blasted off on Sunday for a six-month mission at the International Space Station (ISS).
Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency powered into the sky in a Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1.21 pm, according to footage aired by the Russian space agency.
While most flights to the ISS now take around six hours, the trio are taking the more circuitous two-day route due to the lab's position in space at the time of the launch.
Docking is expected on Tuesday.
Both Tingle, 52, and Kanai, 40, are first-time flyers but flight commander Shkaplerov, 43, is an experienced hand.
The former Russian military pilot has spent exactly a year in space over two missions and will mark his birthday in orbit for the third time in February next year.
Shkaplerov told journalists at a pre-flight press conference on Saturday (Dec 16) that he intends to vote from space in Russia's March presidential election, which incumbent Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win.
"We (cosmonauts) like all conscientious citizens of Russia, participate in the presidential elections," he said.
Kanai is the youngest astronaut in the history of the Japanese space agency, and the last of a trio of Japanese astronauts who were certified for travel to the ISS back in 2011.
US Navy captain Tingle is a graduate of Purdue University in Indiana, which also counts space legend Neil Armstrong among its alumni.
The space travellers will join Russia's Alexander Misurkin and NASA pair Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba currently aboard the ISS.
The ISS laboratory, a rare example of American and Russian cooperation, has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kmph since 1998.