A Soyuz spacecraft carrying Russian, American and Canadian astronauts blasted off on Wednesday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
The spacecraft took off on schedule at 1212 GMT carrying Russian Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, an AFP correspondent said.
“The Soyuz TMA-O7M has separated from the third stage booster rocket and has been brought into the correct orbit,” the Russian space agency said in a statement.
The spacecraft is due to dock with the ISS on December 21 at 1412 GMT. The crew will join commander Kevin Ford of NASA and Russian flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin on the ISS.
The Russian space agency noted jokingly that the men were due to dock with the ISS on the day when some believe the world will end, as predicted by a Mayan prophecy.
“The arrival at the ISS is planned to fall on the ‘end of the world’ in the Mayan calendar. But the conquerors of the universe are not giving a thought to the apocalypse,” it said in a statement.
It will be the 150th docking by astronauts at the ISS, the space agency added.
The men will spend 147 days in space, landing back on Earth in May 2013.
The Soyuz crew is bringing Christmas presents for the astronauts on the ISS, Hadfield told journalists at the Star City training centre before launch, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
The Canadian astronaut said he was hoping to find a Christmas tree and a special festive menu on board the orbiting lab.
“We know we will have the next three holidays — that’s Christmas, then New Year, then another Christmas,” Romanenko said, cited by Russian mission control.
Russians celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
Romanenko, 41, the commander of the Soyuz flight, is going to the ISS for the second time. He is the son of a famed Soviet astronaut, Yury Romanenko.
Marshburn, 52, a medical doctor, is also taking part in his second mission. He previously spent time with Romanenko on the ISS.
Hadfield, 53, is making his third trip to space, and his second to the ISS.
When the three astronauts currently aboard the ISS leave the space station in March, Hadfield will take over as commander, the first Canadian to do so, according to the NASA website.
Hadfield plans to update his Twitter account while in space and posted a picture of himself kissing his wife through a glass window after the astronauts were put into a sterile area ahead of the launch.
“Sun’s rising here in Baikonur, the clear cold morning of launch day. Crew just had breakfast, we’re excited!” he wrote on his Twitter account @Cmdr_Hadfield Wednesday morning.
Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft are now the only way to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the US mothballed its shuttle programme last year.
The launch schedule was delayed by more than a week after an October launch was postponed so technicians could replace a piece of broken equipment.
Russia has recently suffered a string of failed satellite launches and the loss of an unmanned supply ship to the ISS, but the manned missions have been flawless.