Baikonur, Jun 8 : A Russian spacecraft blasted off from southern Kazakhstan in the early darkness of Wednesday morning to take a three-man crew to the International Space Station.
Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA's Michael Fossum, and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan's JAXA space agency will spend almost two days squeezed into the cramped Soyuz capsule before docking with the space station, where they will remain until mid-November.
At 2:15 a.m. on Wednesday , the ferocious roar of rockets echoed around the Russian-leased Baikonur space launch site as the Soyuz capsule was propelled into the sky.
Fossum gave a wave to the cameras and a salute as the rocket charged into low orbit at speeds approaching 23,000 kmph.
Upon docking at the station, the crew will join the current station members - NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyayev.
While aboard the ISS, the team will witness the final mission of the US shuttle, with NASA retiring the 30-year programme after Atlantis flies on July 8.
By being present on the space station as the US shuttle performs its final voyage, Fossum and Garan will play leading roles in the closing act of the programme.
Wednesday's launch was the second run for the upgraded digital model of the Soyuz, which has served as the workhorse of the Russian space programme for decades. AP