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Two Russians, U.S. Grandfather Lift Off For Long Stay In Space

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (left to right) and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Aleksei Ovchinin attend a training examination at the Gagarin cosmonaut training center outside Moscow in February.

A Russian rocket has lifted off carrying three crew to the International Space Station, including an American grandfather who is expected to set a U.S. record for longevity in space.

The rocket took off successfully in windy conditions on March 18 from Russia's Baikonur space base in Kazakhstan with Russians Oleg Skriprochka and Aleksei Ovchinin on board, as well as American Jeff Williams, a grandfather and veteran of long-duration space missions.

By the end of his half-year visit to the space station, Williams, 58, "will become the American with the most cumulative days in space -- 534," NASA said.

The current U.S. record is held by astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year in space and returned to Earth earlier this month, bringing his total to 520 days in space.

Both astronauts are participating in experiments to determine the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the body and mind in anticipation of future missions to Mars.

The all-time record for cumulative days spent in space is held by Russian cosmonaut Genny Padalka, who racked up 879 days over his career.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP