A three-member multinational crew blasted off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan on Thursday for a two-day trip to the International Space Station, a NASA TV broadcast showed.
NASA astronaut Kathleen “Kate” Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 0136 GMT on Thursday (9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday).
The crew is due to arrive on Friday at the station, which orbits about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, to begin a four-month mission.
Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi will join NASA astronaut and station commander Jeff Williams and two Russian cosmonauts who have been aboard the orbital outpost since March.
Wednesday’s launch marked the debut flight of a next-generation Russian Soyuz capsule, currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the station, a $100 billion project of 15 countries.
NASA hopes to resume flying astronauts from the United States in 2018 aboard capsules under development by Boeing Co and privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Fla; Editing by Olzhas Auyezov and Peter Cooney)