A multinational crew blasted off aboard an upgraded Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan early on July 7 for a two-day trip to the International Space Station.
A NASA TV broadcast showed the rocket lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi.
They reached orbit within nine minutes and are expected to arrive at the station on July 9.
The launch marked the debut flight of a next-generation Soyuz capsule, currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying crewmembers to and from the station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
Upgrades to the Soyuz include better shielding to protect the spacecraft from micrometeoroid and orbital debris impacts, additional batteries, improved communications equipment, new steering thrusters, larger solar arrays, an improved docking system, and a GPS-equipped landing system.
Rubins, a cancer and infectious diseases researcher, plans to attempt the first DNA sequencing in space.
Ivanishin has made one previous flight to the station. Rubins and Onishi are both rookie astronauts.